Making Good as a Younger or Older Knuckleballer

Ryan Feierabend with KT WizWe under-reported the success of knuckleball pitcher Ryan Feierabend in our March 8 post by overlooking a SportingNews.com piece from early 2017. The article stresses that the salary which the knuckleballer has been earning as a KBO player in Korea is greater by an order of magnitude than would have been possible as a minor leaguer baseball player in the U.S.

Players typically don’t make a lot of dough playing in MiLB [Minor League Baseball] or indy leagues. Quite often for players like him, heading to Asia becomes a viable, realistic option because the teams offer higher pay and guarantee playing time for their foreign players.

And that’s the path that Feierabend chose after the 2014 season. The lefty signed with the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) for a reported amount of $380,000. In a league where foreign players are expected to step in and become a cornerstone of the rotation or lineup right away, Feierabend did “passably” in his first two seasons in the KBO….

In his second season with the KT Wiz, he won a contract for $680,017. The year 2017 was also one by which Feierabend had “evolved.”

Feierabend’s surge has been one of the hottest topics in the KBO this season. A lot of it is because he has featured a new pitch into the arsenal: the knuckleball.

Yep. We are talking about a lefty knuckleballer. In fact, Feierabend is the first ever pitcher in the KBO history to throw knuckleball regularly….

The pitch itself has been very effective. The hitters have swung at 63.1 percent of his knuckleballs—the most against any pitch—but have only hit .198 AVG with .271 SLG against it. Feierabend also has been able to throw it for strikes or locate it lower to induce swings-and-misses.

Last November Feierabend’s contract with KT Wiz was renewed for $1.05 million.

So far as we know, his knuckleball is not yet his full-time pitch. We’ll see if that changes in 2018.

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Eri Yoshida knuckleball gripA Legacy.com post about “The Best Women Who Ever Played Baseball” includes Japanese knuckleball pitcher Eri Yosida among those who have challenged “themselves and others to be the best in baseball.” Wikipedia reports that in 2008, at age 16, she was “the first female drafted by a Japanese men’s professional baseball team.”

According to a 2011 ESPN article, she taught herself the knuckleball at age 14 “after watching her idol, Tim Wakefield, on TV…. The pitch seemed tailored for the predicament she was facing….

“ ‘I could tell [Wakefield’s pitches] were very slow and the big guys struck out a lot,’ Yoshida said. ‘That’s when I started to get interested in the knuckleball. I didn’t know whether or not I could do it, but I just wanted to try it.’ ”

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John NiggelingNobody should get the idea that unless you’ve broken into the elite ranks of the knuckleball pitcher by age 16, you’re out of luck. Knuckleball players have often been late bloomers. Per Wikipedia, John Arnold Niggeling (1903-1963) was 35 before he made it to the major leagues as a knuckleball pitcher, and played for nine seasons (1938-1946).

He won a career-high 15 games with the Browns before joining the wartime Senators, who fielded a starting rotation featuring four knuckleballers. He finished in the top ten in league earned run average three times, and twice in strikeouts. His career record was 64-69 with a 3.22 ERA.

SABR.org says that Niggeling was 36, not 35, when he broke into the majors.

His epic journey spanned nearly two decades, playing in ten different leagues, punctuated with two brief chances in the majors. Finally, at the relatively old age of 36, the tall right-handed pitcher took root in the big leagues, first in the National, and then the American League. His unique side-armed throw of a one-finger knuckleball allowed him to prove his value in the Queen City [Cincinnati]. From there, he spent his best years with the St. Louis Browns, followed by a good stand with the Senators, and lastly a short stint with the Boston Braves of 1946….

While attending the town’s St. Mary’s High School, he excelled at basketball as well as baseball. A good hitter, he mostly played the infield then, although, later in life he mentioned that he also did some pitching for St. Mary’s, unwittingly forming the rudiment of his famed knuckleball.

Niggeling was eventually sidelined by stomach problems.

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