The knuckleball is quickly going extinct in MLB – The Denver Post

The knuckleball is quickly going extinct in MLB – The Denver Post





Original Source


The tightknit knuckleball community includes Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and two-time World Series champion Tim Wakefield. They showed that, if mastered, the pitch is one of the most effective in baseball, nearly impossible to hit. Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell, a Hall of Famer, once compared its flight to “a butterfly with hiccups.”

But coaches and knuckleballers believe the pitch may be nearing extinction.

Forever underestimated, never fully embraced on the instructional level and long an option of last resort for struggling pitchers, the knuckleball has always been somewhat rare. Its peak came in the 1970 season, when seven major league practitioners of the floating, fluttering, slow ball combined to earn 47 wins and 44 saves.

But last year, just 727 knuckleballs were thrown in the majors, the fewest since the statistic was first tracked by Baseball Savant in 2008, and that number could dwarf this year’s total. Boston Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright is the only active knuckleballer in MLB, and he has been limited this season by a suspension and injuries. A knuckleballer has yet to record a victory this year.

The decline has been exacerbated by a confluence of factors, above all baseball’s emphasis on velocity and spin rate, characteristics that are virtually absent from a knuckleball. The focus on grooming pitchers who can overpower hitters makes it even harder to find coaches who can teach the knuckleball or organizations with the time and patience to develop a knuckleballer.

“Spin rate and velocity — that’s the rage,” Colorado Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. “It’s always been a scout’s delight.”

Foster said his knowledge of the knuckleball — next to nothing — is indicative of its increasing rarity. As a player, he never played alongside someone who threw it. He hasn’t coached a knuckleballer, and he is almost certain the Rockies don’t have one in their entire organization.

“For a knuckleball, it has to be the right place at the right time with an organization that has patience,” he said. “In today’s game, it’s hard to find that that exists.”

• • •

David Banks, Getty Images

Ryan Feierabend of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches the ball against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 18, 2019 in Chicago.

One of the few remaining knuckleballers has bounced around the minors, pitched in South Korea and earlier this season was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Class AA affiliate after being designated for assignment. Ryan Feierabend, 33, was a third-round draft pick in 2003, when his fastball sizzled in the low 90s. He had fooled around with the knuckleball previously, but after years of scuffling he decided to deploy the pitch with more frequency. He felt he had little to lose.

Without the knuckleball, he says he would “be sitting at home trying to find a job.” But he also understands the stigma.






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