Video-game knuckleballs are easier to hit than the real thing in a real game.
Not a surprise. But the MLB The Show video game (the 15th edition of which is reviewed here) apparently does a pretty decent job of simulating the knuckleball pitch, to the extent that virtual-game batters are offering advice to each other that sounds somewhat like what’s given to actual batters facing actual ace knuckleball pitchers in actual play.
In a subreddit page about MLB The Show, BrooklynJ90 asks whether anybody has any tips for hitting a knuckleball, since “I’ve never scored more than a run off a knuckleballer. I usually have to pitch a shutout whenever Niekro and Dickey are on the mound. My strategy has been to take as many pitches as possible to tire them out, but that way, I don’t score until it’s way late in the game.”
Gameplayer nomadic_River has the answer: “ ‘If it’s high, let it fly, if it’s low let it go.’ ” Goodbeerisgood concurs: “This exactly… Take one or two pitches also to get the feel of it, I find that helps. You really can’t get around being patient with a knuckleballer.”
And hobohandfishin observes, albeit only semi-correctly, that the knuckleball is “not really a hard pitch to throw, so [knuckleballers’] endurance doesn’t get sucked down” like that of other pitchers.
Perhaps we have no real disagreement with hobohanfishin, if the notion that the knuckleball is not a hard pitch to throw is intended to refer only to the lower physical stress of pitching it than that of pitching, say, a fastball—a difference in stress and strain that definitely promotes the knuckleballer’s ability to endure both in a game and in a career. But let no one suppose that pitching an effective knuckleball is either easy to learn or easy to sustain over the long run. Knuckleballers themselves confute any such notion, and the reluctance of most pitchers to add the knuckleball to their regular pitching repertoire is also eloquent. Perhaps it is impossible to throw one’s best possible knuckleball without making it one’s primary pitch.
The ability of MLB The Show to simulate the knuckleball has definite limits, if we go by the testimony of jct522: “Yeah it’s all about timing. I’m not a great hitter and I actually crush Niekro and Dickey every time I play them. I hit 5 HRs off of Niekro the other day in 2 innings and of course the other guy conceded but it seems like typically the knuckleball falls low in the zone and you just have to key [in] on it.”
Piece of cake! Just “key in on” the knuckleball, and you can blast it again and again, like clockwork. A matter of timing.
If jct522’s account is accurate, it casts grave doubt on the simulative prowess of the video game. Perhaps video-Niekro’s video-pitch is indeed this easy for an experienced toggle-master to grandly slam in video games. In real baseball life, though, a good knuckleball is lots harder to target and clobber, precisely because of the relatively greater unpredictability of the trajectory produced by the near-spinless pitch. In real baseball life, in-his-prime Niekro is not that easy to get five home runs off of in two innings. To be sure, some batters are better than others in defeating a knuckleball, but these better batters are not in the “not a great hitter” category. Moreover, whatever they’re doing right does not seem to be readily transferable via pat formulae.
But video-game tech keep advancing. Who knows? Maybe, one day, the video-knuckleball will become indistinguishable from the real thing.
P.S. No video game is complete without video of the video game. So here is a Two Brothers Gaming YouTube video of MLB The Show that features some Niekro knuckleball.