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Knuckleball. Hit me.
January 3, 2014 3:59 AM   Subscribe

Here is a gif of a knuckleball in flight. Thrown by RA Dickey the baseball is colorized to help follow the flight path and is moving at about 75 mph. You have 0.55 seconds from when the ball is released to predict the flight path and try and intercept the ball with your bat. Mobile friendly version. (via).

Youtube [not colorized] here.
posted by vapidave (43 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The look on the catcher's face at the very end is priceless. You do you, RA Dickey. We miss you, Tim Wakefield.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:25 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


That's nice but there are days when it just won't knuckle, and then it's time for the showers.
posted by thelonius at 4:29 AM on January 3


Yeah, when it works, it's unhittable. When it doesn't work, it's...not so unhittable.

Little in baseball is as much fun as watching a knuckleballer on a good night. You can almost see the batters have nervous breakdowns at the plate.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 4:53 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Knuckleball on Wikipedia, for UK ignoramuses such as my goodly self.
posted by Monkeymoo at 5:00 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The knuckleball is a pitch thrown without putting any spin on the ball. You basically palm it and grip it with bent fingers (i.e., the knuckle). There is no wrist snap at the release so it's a slow pitch (70-75mph). It's a difficult pitch to control.

There used to be an argument as to whether or not what you see in the GIF is actually an optical illusion. Batters (and catchers) will swear that a knuckleball jumps around, but the physics suggests a much more muted effect from the lack of rotation. Similarly, a curveball (which is a pitch with a backward spin on it) does indeed follow a curved path, but it doesn't drop from the sky as batters claim. It turns out to be a combination of ball motion and optical illusion:

"Visual scientists recently applied the functions of foveal and peripheral vision to baseball, proving the curveball's sudden and severe "break" is a trick of the eyes.

“In baseball, a curveball creates a physical effect and a perceptual puzzle. The physical effect – the curve – arises because the ball’s rotation leads to a deflection in the ball’s path,” said Shapiro, who is an associate professor of psychology. “The perceptual puzzle arises because the deflection is actually gradual but is often perceived as an abrupt change in direction – the break."

Moreover, the biggest problem with the knuckeball is that the batter can't predict where it's going to go from the point of release because the pitcher doesn't have much of an idea either. The pitcher's release includes none of the usual clues a batter relies on to predict what's coming or where and that puts the batter at a huge disadvantage regardless of what the ball might do after that point.

Of course that also makes the knuckle-baller prone to wild pitches, passed balls, and a lot of bases on balls. The slow pitch gives runners an advantage in stealing as well. On average there isn't a whole lot of advantage with the pitch, but a few mavericks have always been able to do something with it.
posted by three blind mice at 5:12 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Available on Netflix is the documentary Knuckleball!, which is pretty good. I was hoping for a bit more on historical knuckleballers, but it's mostly about Wakefield and Dickey. Worth a watch though, if you're fan of the knuckleball (and who isn't?)
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:17 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Y'all remember when Wade Boggs was twilighting at the Yankees and in a spell when they were hard-up for pitchers, he played a game or two because he had a pretty good knuckleball?
posted by entropone at 5:55 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


My first MLB game, age 6: Phil Niekro's no-hitter, against, I think, the Padres. I have always had a soft spot for knuckleballers because of this (at the time, I think I would have enjoyed seeing some home runs more, but Dad did a good job of getting it across that this was something special).
posted by thelonius at 5:57 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Love this gif. You can knuckle a soccer ball too. Impressive in slow-mo and always delivers that same look of despair on the keeper's face and he watched the ball fly past him.
posted by beau jackson at 5:59 AM on January 3


There is no wrist snap at the release so it's a slow pitch (70-75mph)

Typically slower than that unless your name is RA Dickey. Tim Wakefield, for example, would average in the high 60 mphs.

RA Dickey stands out from other knuckleballers in that he averages in the high 70s and can throw them up to 83 mph, which at least for a year was good for a Cy Young award.

That double bend on the slo-mo shot in the FPP is a thing of beauty. I was bummed when the Twins gave him up, but he didn't really master his craft until he left for the Mets.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:08 AM on January 3


That's ridiculous. How are you supposed to hit that?

I mean, it's like the pitcher is trying to prevent the batter from hitting it.

WTF
posted by blue t-shirt at 6:09 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


I want to see this for every pitch.
posted by mullacc at 6:16 AM on January 3


I want to see this for every pitch.

about 20 years ago, they were using an overhead plate cam, in the playoffs and World Series at least, and you could see what a joke the "strike zone" is in practice. I think the umpires got them to stop.
posted by thelonius at 6:18 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


On average there isn't a whole lot of advantage with the pitch, but a few mavericks have always been able to do something with it.

There is, however, an advantage with the pitcher. Because it's not thrown much harder than a normal toss, knuckleballers are less taxed. One pitcher with less potential time on the injury list, you juggle your roster less and have better coverage if one of your heat starters goes down.

And if you have a knuckleballer as your fifth pitcher, you have a guy who can likely go out and relieve during a lost-cause game to preserve your bullpen for the next night, and not miss a start.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:32 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


What do you mean about the strike zone being a joke, thelonius?
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:36 AM on January 3


I believe thelonius means that the strike zone is supposed to be a box over home plate, from the batter's knees to chest, but that in practice, what the plate ump calls a strike or a ball doesn't match that box very well.
posted by entropone at 6:39 AM on January 3


yes, exactly. You could see how idiosyncratic and inconsistent the calls are. I suppose hitters just deal with this, and they probably know the tendencies of the different umpires.
posted by thelonius at 6:42 AM on January 3


Is it possible to throw a knuckleball without a mustache? Scientists argue.
posted by entropone at 6:51 AM on January 3 [17 favorites]


Shit. Being friday, and the wording of the post, I was looking for the flash game.
posted by scottymac at 6:59 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid (1978, I think), my dad took me to a Yankees home game. It was a pleasure to be there early, because we could see the players shagging flies to warm up and generally playing around. In the bull pen, Rich Gossage was fooling around and my dad, who has always had a good eye for the game pointed out that he was throwing knuckle balls. These were not just knuckle balls. They were Gossage knuckle balls, which means they were going very fast. I had just asked my dad why he never used those in the game when he fired a knuckle ball into the stands.

OK then.
posted by plinth at 7:17 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


You have 0.55 seconds from when the ball is released to predict the flight path and try and intercept the ball with your bat.

three blind mice: Moreover, the biggest problem with the knuckeball is that the batter can't predict where it's going to go from the point of release because the pitcher doesn't have much of an idea either. The pitcher's release includes none of the usual clues a batter relies on to predict what's coming or where and that puts the batter at a huge disadvantage regardless of what the ball might do after that point.

Emphasis mine. Hitters look at a pitcher's shoulder, torso, hand and flicker of the red seams spinning to evaluate where the ball will go. Remove these tells, and hitters can't hit fastballs except for wild luck. This is why major leaguers can't hit fast pitches from softball pitchers, and why a ball without any "tells" is damned near impossible to hit. Major league hitters don't have super-human reflexes, they refine their anticipatory skills beyond what untrained people have.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:30 AM on January 3 [12 favorites]


Nice. I watched Knuckleball! on a plane last year and really enjoyed it.

we could see the players shagging flies to warm up

o_O
posted by corvine at 7:46 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Any well thrown knuckleball is indistinguishable from magic to me.

These mustached wizards blow my mind but seriously run the risk of being burnt at the stake if they go back in time and try this.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:49 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Shagging flies, in a baseball context for our curious UK members, means practicing or warming up by catching repeated balls hit into the air by a partner.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:52 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Filthy Light Thief: On that note, and in the vein of pitching gifs, everyone should check out the Yu Darvish gif of his 5 different pitches and the eerie homogeny of his body motion and release point for each pitch.

Yu Darvish is very very very good
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:14 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


I can't recall the catcher's name, but when asked how he caught Charlie Hough's knuckleballs he said "Hell, I just try to knock them down and pick them up when they stop bouncing around!".
posted by TDavis at 8:14 AM on January 3


This thread is making me think of words and terms that I haven't thought about in twenty years and it makes me happy.
posted by entropone at 8:16 AM on January 3


entropone: This thread is making me think of words and terms that I haven't thought about in twenty years and it makes me happy.

Googly.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:19 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Up here in the frigid North, shagging flies are exactly what they sound. Fancier ones are trimmed in fox fur. Always button-up style, because at –40C, metal zippers are dangerous.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:25 AM on January 3


I've never faced a knuckleball as a batter, but once when I was playing left field in a softball game I had a solid line drive come my way and I could see the seams on the ball...there was no rotation. As it came toward me I watched it bob and weave in every possible direction until it flew over my head and a good 5 or 6 feet to my left.
I looked like an idiot.
posted by rocket88 at 8:56 AM on January 3


When I was in Little League, I had a pitch like that -- it came in hard and fast, and nobody knew where it was going to end up. Unfortunately, it was my fastball.
posted by delfin at 9:03 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


My one year in little league and I was the catcher. Our team had two "real" pitchers -- one of them threw a fastball and the other one through what we were calling the "anyball."

Anyball? The coach said that on any given day, anyone can hit it anywhere or the pitcher can strike anyone out with it. There were at least 2 pitches an inning I couldn't catch from him. It was the most infuriating thing. Was it a knuckleball? Can't tell.

This story would have been awesome if it ended with "and Wake and I still hang out every winter" but it just wouldn't be true. =)
posted by andreaazure at 9:38 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I actually have a foolproof technique for dealing with knuckleballers in video games. The technique is this: set the controller down and read a book. Look up every now and then to see what's happening. 50% of the time, the pitcher will strike out the side. The other 50% of the time, he'll walk in three runs. Either way, I don't look as foolish as I do trying to hit the thing.

Someday, I really want to see a real team try this.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:59 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's mentioned in that Knuckleball doc but Tommy John surgery is somewhat common among pitchers. Dickey lacks a UCL in his throwing arm. There's some speculation this is why he's disadvantaged when it comes to standard pitches but great at knuckleballing.
posted by edeezy at 10:33 AM on January 3


Dickey ideally wants the ball to rotate about a quarter of a turn, as you'll see here, in an entertaining and informative interview with Letterman.
I like watching Josh Thole catch for Dickey when he throws for the Blue Jays. Thole doesn't put up his catcher's mitt as a target, but just rests it on his knee and snaps the ball out of the air in the last fraction of a second.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:43 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Seconding beau jackson, I've been on the receiving end of the soccer knuckleball. The difference there is that it is not slower than normal - it's generally hit dead center, and it appears to shuck and jive all over the place, and I swear you can hear the apparent wind whistle in the stitches.
posted by ElGuapo at 12:09 PM on January 3


There's a really great interview with Dickey on Bullseye from 2012. He's a fascinating guy. Says he would have been an English professor if he hadn't become a pro ballplayer, names his bats after swords from fantasy literature, and his at-bat introduction music is the theme from Game of Thrones.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:23 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Jayson Werth also uses the Game of Thrones music, because Jayson Werth is the best.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:40 PM on January 3


Yu Darvish is very very very good

No shit, he threw five baseballs at once. Must have hands the size of sea turtles, that guy.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:04 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


This is very cool. Thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:19 PM on January 3


One of the first "grown-up" books I read, when I was maybe 11, was Ball Four, written by fastball-phenom turned knuckleballer Jim Bouton. If you're interested in the difficulties involved with throwing a knuckleball (catchers hate it, managers don't like it, batters kinda resent it, it's very difficult to master as a skill, etc.), read it. It's worth reading for many other reasons, too — the two most important for me is that it's very honest and often hilarious.

It's the only baseball book I've read more than once — it's fun and funny and uplifting, especially when there's two months to go before spring training.

No, Jim Bouton didn't pay me for this plug. This AV Club review from a few years ago captures, in a more eloquent fashion, what I'm trying to say.
posted by young_simba at 8:53 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Deadspin (and io9) just gave credit to this thread for their article on this.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:23 AM on January 5


Thanks for this post, and thanks to Bulgaroktonos for mentioning the Knuckleball documentary. I'm not a sports guy, but got fascinated by this pitch and found the movie on Netflix Streaming (after getting sucked in by the trailer).

My wife isn't into sports either, but she enjoyed the doc as well.
posted by avoision at 7:00 PM on January 5


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