Steven Wright has signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with the Red Sox to pitch in 2018. “Wright, 33, was limited to five starts in 2017 before a knee injury cut short his season,” NESN.com recalls. “The knuckleballer, who’s also under team control through 2020, was a surprising All-Star in 2016, posting a 13-6 record with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts.”
Fansided’s Hunter Noll opines that despite some setbacks, Wright “can get back on track in 2018 though, and give the Boston Red Sox fans those Tim Wakefield flashbacks they all want—and deserve.” Wakefield is, of course, the famed knuckleball pitcher who retired in 2012 after 17 years with the Sox, 19 seasons in all.
* * *
A lot of ballplayers out there can throw a great knuckleball. Every pro team I’ve played for has a position player that can throw a really good one. But what separates knuckleball pitchers from pro ballplayers that can throw a good knuck is consistency.
It is the ability to stand on the mound and throw 100 good knuckleballs in a row that will make you a pro.
Chris names two keys to greater consistency. One is improvement in mechanics, and here he mentions the help he’s gotten from R.A. Dickey, Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro. The other is repetition. The two are inseparable. You need to do “a million reps done well,” not a million reps repeating the same mistakes over and over. So technique is important. And that means that focus is important.
* * *
Dig two fingernails into the leather, right in front of the seam in the middle of the horseshoe. “The ball wants to spin backwards out of my hands. But right at release point, I point forwards with my index and my middle finger to stop that spin from happening,” Wakefield says. “So basically, as the ball’s coming out of my hand, I force it to rotate forward at the same time it wants to rotate backwards, and it comes out perfectly still.”
Knuckleballs are easy on the pitcher’s joints because they don’t need to be thrown hard, which explains how Wakefield struck out MLB sluggers by lobbing the ball 66 MPH (and why he didn’t retire until age 44).
It’s safe to say that in his career Wakefield performed way more than a million reps.
* * *
From the annals of Wrong Pronouncements About Pitching, we have this FoxSports declaration in a generally well-argued essay about the apparent arbitrariness of the 100-pitch limit rule (“The problem with the 100-pitch limit”):
Pitching is an unnatural, freakish act, and against hitters that grow smarter and more difficult to retire by the year, pitchers need to throw harder than ever before.
Wrong! We concede that pitching is “an unnatural, freakish act,” and even that “pitchers need to throw harder than ever” may often be true. But watch those implied universal generalizations, sports writers! “Often” isn’t the same as “all.”
As Michael Howard has just explained (scroll up a few inches), knuckleball pitching is the even freakier act that disproves the alleged rule. Knuckleballs don’t need to be thrown as hard as other pitches do. In consequence, knuckleball pitchers are spared the chronically more intense physical stress that must be endured by colleagues on the mound.