Graser Used to Just Fool Around with the Knuckleball, but Now…

Here’s another up-and-coming young knuckleballer reported to be a skilled practitioner of the wobbly art: Matt Graser of the Badlands Big Sticks. About a game played in early July, by Shelby Reardon in the Dickinson Press, Reardon writes:

Once again, Matt Graser did his thing.

The Badlands Big Sticks pitcher relied heavily on his knuckleball, striking out five while his team downed Hub City 6-5…at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark.

In his seventh start of the summer, Graser picked up his sixth win. The junior from the University of Missouri – St. Louis tossed 6 and 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits.

“Graser was unreal. He trusted that knuckleball,” Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt said. “He kept throwing it and throwing it and they kept swinging and missing.”

That’s what we like to hear. The throwing of the knuckleball, followed by the swinging and the missing.

It was a near thing, but in that game the Badlands Big Sticks of Dickinson, North Dakota outplayed the Hub City Hotshots of Aberdeen, South Dakota by 6 to 5. Both teams are members of the Expedition League, a collegiate summer baseball league founded in 2017.

In a more recent story, “Graser using unconventional arsenal on mound for Big Sticks,” myNDnow.com’s Ken Kosirowski stresses Graser’s reliance on the knuckleball.

“I probably throw about 80-90 percent knuckleballs, some games actually a little more,” Graser said.

He leans on the pitch now, but as a kid, it was just a pitch to joke around with.

“One of my friends actually taught me when we were about 14 years old,” Graser said. “We were just messing around with it. He said, ‘You ever thrown a knuckleball?’ No. He said, ‘Try it.’ I toyed around with it for a few years, and it got pretty decent I guess.”

And now in his college days, he’s turned it into a real threat….

“It was a really big challenge right away to learn how to adjust to the movement,” Big Sticks catcher Ben Thoma said. “It’s kind of hard to prepare because you know the first one’s never going to be the same as the next.”

Throwing the knuckleball 80 to 90 percent of the time is even a bit higher than the percentage reported by MLB knuckleball specialists like R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright. We don’t know what the “right” percentage is, but we do believe that most effectively deploying the knuckleball probably means throwing it much, much more often than any other pitch.

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Graser and other young knuckleball pitchers deviate from a common pattern of using the knuckleball later in a career as a way to make a comeback in pro baseball.

So Reddit user u/sarsfox’s list of such comeback attempts doesn’t mention Glaser. But he does mention the knuckleball aspirations of Phil Coke, J.D. Martin, Eddie Gamboa, Tomo Ohka, Mickey Jannis and others. He also goes back to the time of “Danny Boone, who played in the Senior Professional Baseball Association before making it back to the MLB (briefly) in 1990, after last being in the majors in 1982.”

Boone was 36 at the time he knuckleballed his way back into the big leagues.

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