The knuckle ball is the most captivating pitching in baseball.
Shot with no twisting motion, a knuckle ball can be moved in any direction once it leaves the streamer’s hand. Dance on the way to the plate. It is a beautiful and unpredictable launch. Nobody knows where he is going, least of all the batter. The knuckle ball has a mind of its own and only a small group of pitchers have been able to master it.
Here are the top 10 knuckles in Major League history.
1) Phil Niekro (1964-87)
318-274; 3.35 of EFE; 3,342 K; 5,404 EL
The most famous knuckler of all, Niekro is a Hall of Famer and the only knuckle shooter to belong to the storied 300-win, 3,000-strikeout club. Niekro pitched 24 seasons and more than 5,000 innings in the majors, mostly for the Braves, claiming 318 victories (16th place on the all-time list) and adding 3,342 strikeouts with a 3.35 ERA. He was called up to five All-Star Games, led his league in wins twice, and won an ERA and a strikeout title. Niekro’s knuckle ball allowed him to pitch until he was 48 years old.
2) Hoyt Wilhelm (1952-72)
143-122; 228 saves; 2.52 of EFE; 1,610 K; 2,254.1 EL
Wilhelm is another Hall of Famer knuckleball. Due to serving in World War II, Wilhelm was 29 years old when he made his major league debut, but he pitched in his late fifties, becoming one of baseball’s first great relievers. Wilhelm was the first player to pitch in 1,000 games and the first to add 200 lifetime saves. He was the all-time leader in both categories upon retirement and remains the leader in reliever victories with 124. Wilhelm was called up to eight All-Star Games, won two ERA titles, was a World Series champion with the Giants. in 1954 and pitched a no-hitter game against the Yankees in 1958. He finished his career with 143 wins, 228 saves and a 2.52 ERA.
3) Tim Wakefield (1992-2011)
200-180; 4.41 of EFE; 2,156 K; 3,226.1 EL
The best-known knucklehead in recent memory, Wakefield had a long career with the Red Sox, reaching 200 wins and striking out 2,156 batters in 19 seasons (17 with Boston). Selected by the Pirates as first baseman, Wakefield struggled as a minor league hitter, resulting in his transformation. He learned to throw his knuckle ball, worked with Niekro to perfect it, and became a successful major league pitcher. In 2009, at 42, Wakefield was called up to the All-Star Game as a member of the Patirrojos, won World Series rings in 2004 and 2007, and was a finalist for the Cy Young Award in 1995, his first season in Boston. when he was 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. He is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
4) Charlie Hough (1970-94)
216-216; 3.75 of EFE; 2,362 K; 3,801.1 EL
Hough pitched 107 complete games in his career. He had 10 or more complete games in six of seven seasons from 1982 to 1988, and even led the majors with 17 in 1984. Hough pitched 25 seasons in the majors, including 11 seasons with the Dodgers and another 11 with the Rangers. He was also the first starting pitcher in Marlins franchise history, taking the mound on Opening Day 1993 at age 45. In that meeting, he beat Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers. Hough had 216 career wins and finished with a 3.75 ERA and 2,362 strikeouts. He represented Texas in the 1986 All-Star Game and is a member of the Rangers Hall of Fame.
5) RA Dickey (2001-17)
120-118; 4.04 of EFE; 1,477 K; 2,073.2 EL
Dickey is the only knuckleball to have won a Cy Young Award. Early in his career, Dickey had ups and downs as a traditional pitcher with the Rangers. Even after he developed his knuckle throw in 2005, it was difficult for him to establish a foothold in the major leagues. But once the Mets signed him in 2010, Dickey settled down. In his first season in New York, he had a 2.84 ERA and two years later was awarded the Cy Young. In 2012, at 37, Dickey was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and led the National League with 230 strikeouts, 233.2 innings pitched, five complete games and three shutouts.
6) Eddie Cicotte (1905-20)
209-148; EFE of 2.38; 1.374 K; 3,226 EL
Cicotte was the first great knuckle ball pitcher in modern baseball. He won 209 games and amassed 1,374 strikeouts with a 2.38 ERA in a 14-year career with the Tigers, Red Sox and White Sox, before being banned from the game for his role in the Series “Black Sox” scandal. 1919 World Cup. Nicknamed “Knuckles” (“Knuckles”), Cicotte led the American League in victories twice, won an ERA title and threw a no-hitter in 1917.
7) Wilbur Wood (1961-78)
164-156; 57 Salvages; 3.24 of EFE; 1,411 K; 2,684 EL
A rare left-handed knuckler, Wood perfected his pitching after being sent to the White Sox in 1966, with the help of teammate Wilhelm. Wood used his knuckle ball to throw with unmatched frequency. As a reliever in his early years in Chicago, he led his league in appearances in three consecutive seasons from 1968 to 1970 – he led MLB with 88 in 1968, when he was Sporting News’ Firefighter of the Year. After becoming a starter in 1971, Wood won 20 games or more four consecutive seasons from 1971 to 1974 (leading the American League in consecutive years in 1972-73), and was the one who started the most games in the majors for four years in a row from 1972 to 1975. During that stretch, Wood was called up to the All-Star Game three times and also finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting three times. In 1972, he started a whopping 49 games, tied for the second-highest figure in a Modern Era campaign – and started 48 the following year.
8) Dutch Leonard (1933-53)
191-181; 3.25 of EFE; 1,170 K; 3,218.1 EL
The best seasons of Leonard’s career came with the Senators in the early 1940s – Leonard was called up to the All-Star Game four times with Washington (plus a fifth All-Star call-up with the Cubs). In 1944, he was part of a Senators rotation that surprisingly had four knuckle-throwers: Him, Roger Wolff, Johnny Niggeling, and Mickey Haefner. Through 20 major league seasons, Leonard won 191 games with a 3.25 ERA and 1,170 strikeouts. Jackie Robinson once said of his knuckle ball: “He comes up in the zone, waves at you, and then runs away.”
9) Joe Niekro (1967-88)
221-204; 3.59 of EFE; 1,747 K; 3,584.1 EL
The youngest of the Niekro was also a successful knuckler. Joe won 221 games over a 22-year career, giving the Niekro brothers a total of 539 victories. He had his best years with the Astros in the ’70s and’ 80s, ranking in the top five in Cy Young Award voting in straight years in 1979-80. In the first of those seasons, Niekro led the National League with 21 wins and five shutouts and was called up to the All-Star Game for the only time in his career. He won a World Series ring in 1987 with the Twins at the age of 42.
10) Tom Candiotti (1983-99)
151-164; 3.73 of EFE; 1,735 K; 2,725 EL
Candiotti won 151 games and had a 3.73 ERA in 16 seasons, pitching primarily for Cleveland and the Dodgers. From 1986, his first full season, to 1993, he surpassed the 200-inning mark for eight consecutive years. Two of his best seasons came in 1986, when he led the American League with 17 complete games and set a career-high with 16 wins, 167 strikeouts and 252.1 innings pitched. In 1991, he produced a career-best 2.65 ERA.
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Best 10 knuckles of all time