Baseball Forkball (FO)
The forkball is one of baseball’s most physically demanding pitches to throw. The grip on the ball requires immense flexibility and durability to pull off. But, in the rare cases that a pitcher goes to the forkball, it often leaves the batter flailing at the plate, bewildered by how the ball moves in the air. What is a forkball? How is it thrown? Who got the idea to throw it? This article will cover all that and more.
A forkball is a relatively uncommon version of the fastball that's jammed between the index and middle fingers. It's most closely related to the split-fingered fastball (splitter) but has less velocity and more downward break from the wrist motion.
How to Throw a Forkball
To throw a forkball, jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and snap your wrist downward during the release. The forkball is similar to the splitter, except the extra wrist movement makes the ball drop significantly more, closer to the path of a curveball.
If the forkball looks and sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it is. The wide grip and forceful wrist motion strain the elbow and forearm, so young pitchers are discouraged from adding the forkball to their arsenal until their tendons can fully develop. Combined with the higher popularity of the splitter, this is why the forkball is rare in professional baseball today.
Since a forkball is already a specialized version of the fastball, there aren't many variants. However, the “ghost fork” has become the signature pitch of Kodai Senga. Across both Japan and North America, Senga has mesmerized hitters with a pitch that looks like a fastball until it “vanishes” out of the strike zone. To throw the ghost fork, Senga holds the ball in an extremely wide grip between his middle and index fingers and snaps his wrist forward to get his deceptive “gyro spin.”
History of the Forkball
The forkball got its start in 1920 when the resourceful “Bullet Joe” Bush had to invent a new pitch to keep his career going. Bullet Joe’s arm injuries stopped him from throwing his signature curveball, but he improvised a way to throw a fastball with his curve’s downward break. After being traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, he got his third World Series pennant in 1923, on the strength of his baffling signature pitch.
In the 1950s, the forkball was repopularized by Pirates’ relief pitcher Roy Face, whose fingers were reshaped from his grip on the ball. His dominance as a reliever, mostly through his forkball, established him as the game’s first bonafide “closer.” In the 1980s and 1990s, Dave Stewart and Jack Morris were the forkball’s most prominent practitioners. Though they didn’t rely on the forkball as much as Face did, its element of surprise made it a reliable strikeout pitch.
In recent years, the forkball has dwindled in major league usage and has gone nearly extinct since the start of the 2010s. MLB teams realize that the forkball is too taxing on the elbow for them to recommend their pitchers to develop one. In Japan, however, the forkball retains a lot more usage.
Best Forkball Pitchers
Here are some of the most skilled pitchers at throwing the forkball:
- “Bullet Joe” Bush
- Roy Face
- Dave Stewart
- Jack Morris
- Mélido Pérez
- Kazuhiro Sasaki
- Hideo Nomo
- Kodai Senga
What is a forkball in baseball?
A forkball is a split-fingered fastball that breaks downward like a curveball. The pitch is most similar to the splitter, except it trades some extra velocity for bewildering movement. Since its invention by “Bullet Joe” Bush in 1920, the forkball’s usage has largely disappeared in North America, though Japanese pitchers use it frequently.
How is the forkball thrown in baseball?
The forkball is thrown by jamming the baseball between the index finger and middle finger, then thrusting the wrist downward as the ball is released. It’s a rather unnatural way of gripping and throwing the ball, so to prevent injury, young pitchers are generally dissuaded from adding this pitch to their toolset. More so than other pitches, the forkball requires years of practice and physical conditioning.