Game Homework: The Knuckleball

“There are two theories on hitting a knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.” – Charlie Lau, legendary hitting coach

There is no question that the knuckleball is one of the most unique pitches in the game of baseball. At an average velocity of around 65 miles per hour, a knuckleball is thrown at the same speed of a batting practice fastball, but once it leaves the pitcher’s hand the knuckleball is the furthest thing from hittable. In fact, since some catchers have said that trying to catch a knuckleball is like trying to catch a butterfly. So it seems very appropriate to use the famous Muhammad Ali quote here to describe a knuckleball; it floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

As the best knuckleballer in the game today, many people think that it was Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball that was the catalyst for the Blue Jays’ losing streak. After the bluebirds couldn’t figure out Wakefield, the offense went seven games without hitting a home run and scoring more than three runs in a single game.


But this time around, we are giving the Blue Jays a little homework to do before they face Old Time Wakefield on Friday. I myself have never tried to hit a knuckleball, but from what I hear it’s one of the most difficult pitches to time as a hitter. Sitting at a computer with next to no baseball experience, I will try to offer some tips to the Blue Jays hitters on hitting a knuckleball. Gene Tenace, start taking notes and pass these tips onto the lineup:

1.) Get as close as you can: Batters should move up in the batters box because the further the ball travels, the more difficult it is to hit. Moving to the top of the batters box can cut down on approximately 60 inches (5 feet) of travel, so scooch in there!

2.) If it’s high, let it fly. If it’s low, let it go: If you remember Kevin Millar’s homerun off Tim Wakefield, it was up in the zone and Millar just let loose and sent it over top of the green monster. Apparently the higher the knuckleball is in the strike zone, the easier it is to hit.

3.) Lean back, lean back: As a batter, the tendency would be to lean forward and swing through the pitch. Most experts say that the key to hitting the floater is to lean back and wait for the ball to reach the batters box instead of trying to swing ahead of the pitch.

4.) Keep your eye on the ball: All the way from little league to the majors, hitting coaches will always preach the same thing – watch the ball.

So now you have a little insight into what the Blue Jays will be up against tomorrow night when the Red Sox arrive in Toronto. I’ll be liveblogging the series opener over at The Score, so join in and let’s hope this this losing streak ends at nine games. Let’s cross our fingers for a slump buster!

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Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

2 thoughts on “Game Homework: The Knuckleball

  • May 29, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Having never faced a knuckleballer myself, I can only share what I’ve learned playing video games: Don’t swing at any knucklers at all unless they’re consistently hitting the zone. If they’re hitting the zone, swing at every one of them.

    And that’s why I’ll never be a hitting coach.

  • May 29, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Same here; the only experience I have is facing Knuckleballers in MLB2K7. If I remember correctly, the best strategy was to wait until the very last second, and then swing – otherwise you’d just swing right through it.

    And that’s why I’ll never play baseball professionally!

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