The knuckleball is the best and most amusing occurrence in baseball. The way the ball floats in the air, while making unpredictable twists and turns, before baffling the batter, is just fun to watch. It’s the thought of how a 75 mph pitch can make a professional hitter look silly is ridiculous, considering that professional hitters have no problem with fastballs more than twenty miles per hour faster.
But sadly, the knuckleball is a rarity in the modern game. There is currently only one knuckleballer on a major league roster (Steven Wright, who’s pitched six innings), and only one other knuckleballer to pitch in a game this year, Mickey Jannis.
The last 300+ game knuckleballer is R.A. Dickey, who turned his career around by learning the knuckler and becoming a Cy Young winner, retiring in 2017. Every other 300+ game knuckleballer debuted in 1992 or earlier.
So why is the knuckleball becoming a pitch of the past? Well, there’s many reasons, but the most important two is the inconsistency and predictability of the pitch.
The knuckleball, as mentioned, is a much slower pitch than every fastball and most offspeed pitches, save for some looping curveballs and changeups, like Anibal Sanchez’s 68 mph changeup. Because of this, knuckleball pitchers solely rely on the deception and movement of the pitch to succeed. The problem with that is if the ball does happen to spin, the pitch becomes a batting practice “meatball”–a pitch hitters can crush with ease.
Knuckleball pitchers throw knuckleballs typically 80-90% of the time. Steven Wright, for example, throws it 85% of the time. Although the pitch is hard to hit, knowing what the pitcher is going to throw is a huge advantage (looking at you, 2017 Astros), regardless of how good the pitch is.
33-year old Mickey Jannis made his debut this season, throwing 57 knuckleballs in a 3 inning appearance. Jannis got absolutely rocked, which was tough to see, after spending eight years in the minor leagues. Jannis let up 7 earned runs and three home runs. A day later, he was designated for assignment.
It is my hope that Jannis will make his way back into the league and find success with the magical knuckleball. Let’s hope that the knuckleball doesn’t disappear completely, because just look at this pitch…
Thanks for reading!