Thanks to Rob Neyer for this article, posted 5/16/13 (and subsequently Jeff Passan in this 5/28/13 article and this Ted Berg USAToday article on 5/29/13) about Robert Coello, a journeyman hurler currently with the Los Angeles Angels who throws what one executive calls a “Knuckle-Forkball” but what in reality is an “Original Forkball.” Not a “Split Fingered Fastball” mind you, but a true-on Forkball. Neyer then goes into some research he did with Bill James on the pitch and has a pretty interesting history on this very rare pitch.
Neyer’s post has video of the pitch as it comes out of his hand (as does the Usatoday article) and indeed the ball knuckles and dives like a knuckler. He only threw one forkball in his 5/15/13 outing but has thrown more than a few since and is getting some national media notice.
Here’s Pitch F/X data for Coello’s 5/15/13 outing. They classified this pitch as a “FS,” pitch f/x lingo for “Fastball-Split” or a splitter. He threw it at 79.5mph. Since then, he’s thrown (I guess) 11 more Forkballs (now classified in Pitch F/X as a “FO”) at an average of 79.2mph. By way of comparison, R.A. Dickey‘s average knuckleball velocity in 2013 has been 75.3mph. And Dickey’s knuckleball is considered so effective because he throws it with such pace (Tim Wakefield only threw his 65-66mph for the last few years of his career). Imagine if Coello can command this pitch and throw it consistently and frequently; he’d have a chance of combining a Dickey-esque fast knuckleball with his 91mph fastball. That could be quite a combination.
So, why is this guy so interesting to me? Because in my own abbreviated amateur baseball pitching career, I threw the same pitch! Somehow over the years screwing around while warming up as a middle infielder I discovered this pitch; you jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and then throw the ball such that it “pops” out of your hand (it will even make a popping noise, not unlike a soft snapping fingers noise) and begins knuckling towards its target. It definitely is not a diving/sinking split fingered fastball motion; it knuckles in. You can throw it with some pace; you throw it with the same motion and intensity as a fastball, except that it gets hung up in the webbing of your fingers and knuckles out. It is relatively easy to control, especially if you throw over the top and just “aim” the ball at the middle of the plate. I used it as a 3rd pitch but one outing in particular it was moving so much that my catcher called nothing but forkballs.
I always called it a forkball, but figured it knuckled instead of diving down like a typical split-fingered fastball because I wasn’t throwing it at the pace of a professional pitcher. Now as it turns out, it looks like I was just throwing a “throw back” pitch rarely seen in the professional ranks. Cool.
This world needs more Forkball pitchers!
Post-post update: Fangraphs Eno Sarris had a great article on him 9/23/13, showing multiple gifs of the pitch, as well as noting that Coello now has a top-30 wFB pitch thanks to the uniqueness of the forkball.