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How to throw a knuckleball with good movement like Jim Bouton or Phil Niekro

Updated on May 10, 2011

Who should throw a knuckleball?

The knuckleball is a relatively easy pitch on the arm, but it also requires a special pitching motion. For that reason, I don't recommend using a knuckleball as an offspeed pitch if you've got other good pitches. The knuckleball is a great pitch for pitchers who have continuous injuries throwing their fastballs and curveballs. For pitchers whose bodies haven't quite developed into what they were hoping for, the knuckleball is a good alternative to athleticism.

Some of the great knuckleballers of all-time were Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm and Tim Wakefield. Jim Bouton was a pitcher who came up with decent stuff but when his other pitches declined he started throwing the knuckleball with a lot of success.

I'm going to show you the grip and throwing motion I prefer with my knuckleball and also some videos of some great knuckleballs being thrown.

The knuckleball grip

It seems like every knuckleballer has a different grip. It's one of the few pitches where you really don't need the seams of the ball and you don't even have to have your hand positioned a certain way around the seams.

I use a three finger knuckleball grip. The index, middle finger, and ring finger are all dug into the ball. The thumb is not resting across the bottom of the ball like with most pitches. It's bent at the knuckle so only the end of the thumb is pressed against the ball.

I position my fingers and thumb on the ball so that none of them are against a seam. Basically, I'm touching the ball at 4 different points and each one of those points should be white.

Throwing the knuckleball

The knuckleball should not be thrown like any other pitch. If you're disguising your knuckler to look like a fastball, you're doing it wrong. With a normal fastball, your elbow will lead your wrist, which will be bent backwards and flick the ball forward. With the knuckleball, your elbow will be bent and less "fluid" and your wrist and hand will be stiff. The elbow will not lead the hand with this throw. Instead of flicking the wrist, the ball is released by opening the hand very quickly. Think of it this way: when you have the ball in your hand with a knuckleball grip, it's like a talon on an eagle, when you release the ball from your hand, your hand is wide open and all fingers and your thumb are spread all the way apart. Practice that motion right now as you're reading this.

The knuckleball gets optimal movement when thrown at 73 miles per hour. You will probably struggle to reach that velocity, but even at 60 miles per hour it moves all over the place and is hard to hit.

How does the knuckleball work?

The knuckleball should not spin, at all! As it flies through the air, it pushes that air around it. While a normal pitch is spinning and channels that air effectively, a knuckleball is essentially fighting through a wall of air. As it does this, it can move in any direction (except backwards, of course). That's what makes it hard to catch and even harder to hit.

Knuckleball videos

I've found some videos of some great knuckleballs for you to examine. Take note of the different grips. Also notice that almost all of them throw the ball the same way no matter what the grip.

Tim Wakefield - an all time great knuckleballer

Chelsea Baker - 13 years old


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  • seattleamilehigh1 profile image

    seattleamilehigh1 6 years ago from Seattle, Washington

    loved the hub, i am a fellow knuckleball pitcher (overhand), and I'll tell ya, it's tough to live by. It's a beautiful thing when it is floating right though.

  • I am DB Cooper profile image

    I am DB Cooper 7 years ago from Whereabouts unknown at this time

    No kidding, I play modified softball! My town has the only modified league for 100 miles. I thought it was pretty much dead. Everywhere else they seem to play slow pitch or even worse unlimited high arc softball. I've pitched a little modified throwing mostly junk. I'll do a write-up on that sometime soon.

  • profile image

    Strategy8 7 years ago

    how about some modified softball pitching tips now, seeing as how my baseball days are over ;)