We all remember many of the knuckleball legends like Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield, and R.A. Dickey. The intrigue created by the knuckleball has always been something that is very entertaining to baseball fans. It is so rare to see a knuckleballer that it has become an exclusive club of players.
Recently there hasn’t been a knuckleball starting pitcher who has stuck in the major leagues for a long period of time.
The latest knuckleballer is Matt Waldron of the San Diego Padres, who pitched last year over the course of 41.1 innings. He’s giving many hope that the knuckleball might be back for good in the major leagues. He was the first pitcher to throw a knuckleball in a regular season game since former Baltimore Oriole Mickey Jannis in 2021.
Another minor leaguer for the Minnesota Twins is looking to continue the knuckleball trend. His name is Cory Lewis. We were able to sit down with Cory on Behind the Seams to talk about how he started to throw the knuckleball, his rise to becoming a top 30 prospect in the Twins organization, and what it is like to be part of the exclusive club of knuckleballers.
Being a knuckleballer already makes you different from most pitchers in baseball. You become part of a small, tightnit club. As Lewis has made his transition to professional baseball, he has had a few knuckleball legends help him along the way.
“Before the draft, I talked to Charlie Hough an old timer, and that was super cool. He came out and watched me through a few knuckleballs,” Lewis said. “And actually last week, one of our coordinators reached out to R.A. Dickey and he was giving me some tips. That was pretty cool.”
Being able to learn from some of the greats has helped Lewis find new ways to master his knuckleball. He’s been able to sustain it’s “nastiness” as a starter which has been huge. Lewis pairs his knuckleball with three other pitches, a fastball, changeup, and curveball. All grade about average. His fastball sits in the low-90s which gives him something to work with besides just having a knuckleball. But the knuckleball is still unsurprisingly his favorite.
“The knuckleball is probably obviously my favorite,” Lewis said. “Just because of the reactions you get from the hitters and catchers and umpires sometimes. Like between innings during substance checks they are like ‘Dude what is that?’ and I am like “yeah, it’s real!’”
Lewis’ four-pitch mix led to him having a very successful first season in pro. He posted a 2.49 ERA in 101.1 innings pitched while striking out 118 batters with a 1.06 WHIP. Those numbers helped him land in the Minnesota Twins top 30 prospects and left him with tons of momentum going into 2024. Lewis did also have some lessons learned in his first season.
“I think the transition has been pretty easy. It is about playing my own game,” Lewis said. “The biggest change has just been attack hitters the same way and not falling into the thought of ‘oh he is so much better than me.’ It is just about having confidence in yourself.”
That confidence is going to help Lewis as he continues to make his way through the ranks and tries to be the next knuckleballer in the major leagues. There hasn’t been a knuckleballer who has had sustained success in the major leagues since R.A. Dickey who won a Cy Young in 2012 and retired in 2017. Between Cory Lewis and Matt Waldron, the knuckleball in the MLB just might be saved!