FanGraph’s August Fagerstrom recently conducted an interesting interview with Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright on how he does what he does with the knuckleball. On the basis of that report we’ve distilled five things not to do as a knuckleballer.
Don’t be consistent. “That’s the biggest key to knuckleballs: you want to be able to throw for strikes, but you want them to be inconsistent in the zone. You don’t want it to have predictable movement.”
Don’t hurry. When Wright throws a wrong knuckleball, what is the most common reason? “Usually it’s rushing. I try to overthrow. If I try to overthrow then it slips out and takes off. That’s something I’ve been fighting my whole life, even when I was a conventional pitcher.”
Don’t copycat other knuckleballers. “I usually try not to watch too much video, actually, because I’m not trying to mimic [my fellow knuckleballers]. Sometimes I get caught up in trying to mimic how other knuckleballers throw instead of going out and being who I am as a pitcher.”
Don’t exert too much or too little pressure. “When you put too much pressure on the ball, you usually spike it, because you hold onto it too long. When you don’t have enough pressure, it usually stays up. That one gets hit harder. But there’s a number of things that can happen. You can hold it too tight and still throw a good one. I’ve done both, certainly a lot when I was learning. I’ve had too much pressure, I’ve had not enough pressure. It’s something that, it’s such a feel pitch, that some days are different than others and you just try to find it as fast as you can and when you do find it, you just try to keep it for as long as you can and hope for the best.”
Don’t try to be newfangled. The knuckleball “hasn’t changed much” over the years. “You’re still throwing the pitch with the same intent—kill the spin…. You can talk about finger pressure and all that stuff, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to stay behind the ball and through the ball to kill the spin…. I worked with Charlie Hough and he did it for 20-something years, and he’s telling me pretty much the same stuff that Wakefield told me.”
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The faceoff between knuckleballer Steve Sparks v. knuckleballer Tim Wakefield of September 15, 2000 is remembered 16 years later in an interview with the two knuckleballers about the pitch and the knuckleball fraternity. Wakefield says he is confident that the knuckleball will never disappear. “There might not be somebody throwing it for a handful of years here and there. But there will always be somebody that comes along and is throwing it in the major leagues.” He also comments proudly on the progress of Steven Wright. “Hard work does pay off eventually.”