We reported early in 2016 that Josh Turley, now of the Toledo Mud Hens, was using the knuckleball as one of several pitches. At that time, pitching coach Mike Henneman was urging Turley to throw the knuckleball more often, advice he seems to have heeded.
In a recent interview with Turley, the Toledo Blade asked when he began throwing the pitch.
Every kid has a little bit of a knuckleball, but I found out mine was pretty decent when I was 15 years old. I didn’t throw it in high school because I could get away with simple velocity, and in college I was successful as a ‘traditional’ pitcher. I started to throw one every now and then just to put it in a hitter’s mind, maybe 4-5 times a game. But last year I got serious about it and transitioned into being a knuckleball pitcher full-time….
If this works out the way I think it can, this could really enhance my career.
Turley says one way he knows he’s pitching the knuckleball well is that the catcher “drops a couple of them.” Although his speed tends to be in the high 60s or low 70s, he has ranged from 49 to 83 miles per hour. He notes that varying the speed helps throw off batters.
Becoming a full-time knuckler has been more mentally than physically challenging, he finds. “The more you throw it, the better it will be consistently. But I’ve always had the physical part; the mental part is where I’ve had to do work. It’s different than the mindset of other pitchers, and that’s the biggest adjustment I had to make.”
Baseball is “a game of failure,” said Steven Roberts in his review of Lew Freedman’s Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch. “The best hitters make an out seven out of 10 times; the best pitchers lose hundreds of games. And since knucklers endure even more failure than most, they have to develop a sense of realism, even humility, to survive. ‘It’s tough to label yourself a knuckleball pitcher,’ Candiotti says, ‘to tell yourself you’re not good enough to make it otherwise.’ But for the chosen few, the ‘goofy’ knuckler is the path to glory.”
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Seventy-seven years ago tomorrow—May 1, 1941—as reported by the Associated Press: “Dutch Leonard, Washington knuckle-ball pitcher, turned in his first victory of the season today, a 7 to 0 shutout that snapped the winning streak of the White Sox at five games.” That’s the Washington Senators versus the Chicago White Sox. (In 1972, the Senators moved to Texas and became the Texas Rangers.)
His pitching technique? As SABR.org quotes him: “I just throw it straight forward like you’d flip a cigarette butt.”
Leonard’s first four seasons in Washington were nearly identical, with ERAs around 3.50 and about two walks and three strikeouts per game. Because he struck out few batters, he was more dependent on his defense than the average pitcher. His fluctuating won-loss records reflect the quality of the Senators’ fielders as well as the whims of luck. In his 18-13 year in 1941, he was the league’s best in fielding-independent pitching [FIP], a statistic that measures a pitcher’s performance without regard to the fielders behind him.