Steve Wright continues to dominate American League batters with his nasty knuckleball, using it to fan five against the Chicago White Sox on June 20th at Fenway Park. The knuckleballer is 8-4 so far this season with 80 strikeouts, leading the AL with three complete games. What makes Wright particularly fascinating to watch is that he’s not just any knuckleballer. Wright seems to bring the pitch to a whole new level.
For almost a century, since Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte allegedly invented the pitch, the knuckleball has baffled hitters. Bill Lee once tried to show me how to throw one, but I got lost in his directions after a few minutes. I’m not sure if that was because Bill Lee was being himself, or because it’s so difficult to explain how to throw the pitch to begin with.
I know you start by gripping the ball with the top of your fingers instead of your actual knuckles, which keeps the ball from rotating as it (hopefully) crosses the plate. Its effectiveness is in the unpredictability of where it’s going. The ball is at the mercy of the wind, humidity, or other natural forces that physically manipulate it. This unpredictability makes it hard for batters to hit, but also for catchers to catch. Sportscaster Bon Uecker puts it best, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.”
Monday’s outing against Chicago made Wright particularly fascinating to watch because, in theory, knuckleballs aren’t supposed to make one full rotation. Keeping the ball from doing so between the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand and hits the catcher’s glove is next to impossible. But Wright threw a pitch past Chicago’s Alex Avila monday night that didn’t make a single rotation. Not one. Single. Rotation. It was just as fascinating to watch Avila take a swing at it—the White Sox catcher never even had a chance.
Move over Tim Wakefield, Steve Wright is the new knuckleballer in town and, if he can keep it up, the new ace.