Getting to Knuckleball

Asked on July 3 by KBLover, a participant in the forum: “Would you feel it plausible to give one pitcher in my system who’s really a long shot at the majors a knuckleball?”

Good question, especially in light of neo-knuckleballer Zach Clark’s apparent decision, after being let go this June by the Orioles organization, to give up trying to make the knuckleball his go-to pitch. Steve Melewski reports on how Clark feels now about having switched to the knuckleball a couple years ago:

“I don’t regret it,” he said. “But I was naive to the process. I didn’t know what the process was and I didn’t know how hard it would be. But I don’t regret it because I learned so much. I think it helped me as a pitcher….

“I would have done it as long as they would keep me there to do it…. I can’t argue with them. I kept trying to get it.”…


After all that time with the knuckler, Clark needs time to readjust to being a conventional pitcher and needs to get his former velocity of 88-91 mph back. He is not done with his career yet.

“I want to keep pitching,” he said. “The goal is to get picked up by an affiliated team and show them I can still pitch and be like I was in 2012 and beginning of 2013.

“It’s way more comfortable for me to be conventional. It’s a lot less stressful. I may eventually work (the knuckler) in as an out-pitch. It is something that I tried, but I wasn’t very good at it.”

Of course, the fact that one aspiring knuckleballer has concluded (at least for now) that the pitch’s unpredictable swerve does not represent the best path for him says nothing about the knuck-prospects of other players hoping to break out of the minors. The knuckleball has always been a pitch both tough to master and worthwhile to master.

We have long held that although knuckleballers will surely remain a minority among professional pitchers, the percentage can be a bit bigger. More players, and more coaches and owners, should give the pitch a try.

At the Operationsports forum, KBlover elaborates: “I guess I’m just itching for a knuckleballer and don’t want to trade for Dickey (don’t like his knuckleball anyway, I want a Charlie Hough/Tom Candiotti 60s-MPH knuckler, not Dickey’s 80 MPH version). I’d make sure it’s a pitcher with no velocity (or drop his FB in favor for the KN) so there’s no 90 MPH with a knuckleballer sort of thing.”

xandere313 says: “I wanted a knuckleballer too, and I happened to draft an 18 year-old kid with a 96 potential. But his projection for velocity was atrocious…so I moved his fastball from the first spot and in 4 or so years I’ll have the next Phil Niekro…or at least Tim Wakefield.”

Jr. adds: “It’s definitely realistic. There are quite a few organizations that take minor leaguers with very little shot of making it, and try to teach them a knuckleball. I’m actually thinking about doing this with a couple of my guys that haven’t panned out at all.”

We don’t know who any of these commenters are—owners, fantasy owners, managers—or what kind of teams they’re running. We’re not appealing to the authority of their unknown credentials or experience. But we’ve never seen a cogent answer to the bottom-line point being suggested here. If your baseball player has tried everything else to get to the next level of play and career, and has enough talent to give the knuckleball a try and enough focus and determination to give it a try…why not invite the attempt? And if you’re that guy yourself, that player, why not accept the invitation, or even make the proposal yourself?

Yes, taking up the knuckleball as your primary pitch is a risk. But everything’s a risk. Running in place is a risk.

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