What is the Meaning of Forkball in Baseball?

A forkball is a unique and rare type of pitch in baseball, known for its significant downward break as it approaches the plate. It is related to the more common split-finger fastball but has a few distinct characteristics. The forkball is held deeper between the first two fingers of the pitching hand and is thrown with a snapping wrist motion, resulting in a slower and more unpredictable downward movement.

While the forkball may not be as popular as other pitches, it has been used to devastating effect by some talented pitchers throughout baseball history. This pitch’s versatile and unexpected nature can catch batters off guard as they struggle to predict its trajectory. However, throwing a forkball requires precision and mastery to harness its full potential without risking injury due to the torque involved in its execution.

Key Takeaways

  • The forkball is a rare pitch in baseball with a significant downward break
  • It is held deeper between the first two fingers and thrown with a snapping wrist motion
  • Throwing a forkball requires mastery and precision to avoid injury and use it effectively

What is a Forkball in Baseball

A forkball is one of the rarest types of pitches in baseball, known for its big downward break as it approaches the plate. The pitch is related to the split-fingered fastball and is held between the first two fingers, with the pitcher throwing hard while snapping the wrist to create movement.

The origin of the forkball can be traced back to “Bullet” Joe Bush of the Boston Red Sox, who is credited with its invention shortly following World War I. The pitch was later popularized by former relief pitcher Elroy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Due to the torque involved in snapping off a forkball, it can be one of the more taxing pitches to throw. This might be one of the reasons why it’s such a rare pitch in baseball. However, when executed correctly, the forkball can be very effective at getting batters out, thanks to its sharp and unpredictable movement.

In summary, a forkball is a rare pitch in baseball that is characterized by its sharp downward break. While it shares similarities with the split-fingered fastball, the forkball’s unique grip and throwing motion make it a distinct and challenging pitch for both pitchers and batters.

How to Grip the Forkball

The forkball is a unique pitch in baseball characterized by its downward movement and reduced velocity. It is thrown with a specific grip that utilizes the pitcher’s middle and index fingers to create the desired effect. Here’s how to grip the forkball:

First, grip the ball with your middle and index fingers. Place these fingers on the seams, similar to the way you would grip a two-seam fastball. Focus on control rather than velocity, as the aim of the forkball is to create deception and movement rather than speed.

Next, spread out your fingers further than you would for a typical fastball. A very wide grip is necessary for the forkball, allowing the ball to spin off the middle or index finger for additional movement. Keep in mind that the grip may feel unnatural at first, and it requires consistent practice to master.

Finally, tuck your thumb underneath the ball as you grip it. The thumb placement helps stabilize the grip and plays a crucial role in achieving the rapid backspin movement that characterizes the forkball. Aim for a motion between 45-85 degrees to optimize the effectiveness of the pitch.

With the proper grip, the forkball can be an effective weapon in a pitcher’s arsenal. It is important to practice and refine your technique in order to achieve the desired results on the mound.

Effects of Throwing the Forkball


The forkball features a sharp downward movement when thrown correctly. This unique break is due to the pitcher jamming the baseball between their index and middle fingers and releasing it with a downward snap of the wrist. As a result, the forkball’s trajectory is similar to that of a 12-to-6 curveball as it approaches the plate.


Forkball speeds are generally slower compared to fastballs, usually averaging around 80 miles per hour (mph) as opposed to an MLB fastball in the mid to upper 90s. The speed discrepancy can range between 8-15 mph, depending on the pitcher and the pressure they apply to the ball.


The late dive of the forkball adds a level of deception, making it a difficult pitch to hit for the batter. Since the forkball is thrown with a similar grip as a fastball, it can initially appear similar to a fastball in speed and trajectory. However, the sudden drop near the plate can surprise and deceive the batter, leading to strikeouts and weak contact.

Famous Forkball Pitchers

The forkball is a rare pitch in baseball known for its sharp downward break as it approaches the plate. Despite being one of the more taxing pitches to throw due to the torque involved, several major league pitchers have favored this pitch throughout their careers.

Bullet Joe Bush may have invented the forkball during the dead-ball era. Other pitchers like Tom Henke, Kevin Appier, Hideo Nomo, José Valverde, José Arredondo, Ken Hill, and Justin Speier also gained a reputation for using the forkball as part of their pitching arsenal.

Japanese pitchers, such as Kazuhiro Sasaki, Chien-Ming Wang, Junichi Tazawa, and Robert Coello, have utilized this pitch in their repertoire as well. Furthermore, the forkball was a key pitch for pitchers like Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, and Bruce Sutter, who is considered one of the best relief pitchers in the history of baseball.

In recent years, rookie pitcher Kodai Senga has been incorporating the forkball into his pitching style. As a challenging throw with a sharp break like a curve, it is fascinating to see the continued presence and impact of the forkball across various generations of baseball pitchers.

Advantages and Disadvantages


The forkball is a pitch in baseball that can be effective due to its deceptive nature. It is similar to the split-finger fastball, but the ball is held deeper between the first two fingers, resulting in a slower, more dramatic downward break near the plate. This can make it difficult for batters to make solid contact, as it appears like a fastball at first but breaks right before reaching them.

Some specific advantages of the forkball include:

  • Deceptive Speed: Although it is thrown like a fastball, the forkball usually has speeds around 80 mph, which can be lower than a traditional fastball. This difference in speed can catch batters off-guard.
  • Unique Movement: The forkball’s pronounced downward break distinguishes it from other off-speed pitches, making it harder for batters to predict its path.
  • Surprise Factor: The rarity of the forkball makes it a useful asset for a pitcher, as batters are less likely to have faced it before.


While the forkball can provide advantages, it also has notable drawbacks:

  • Difficulty in Mastery: Throwing a forkball requires significant torque on the wrist, which can be difficult to master consistently. This could lead to a lack of control over the pitch, resulting in more balls or walks.
  • Potential for Injury: The additional strain placed on the pitcher’s wrist and arm when throwing a forkball raises the risk of injury. This could lead to long-term health issues for the pitcher.
  • Less Effective Against Experienced Batters: Skilled and experienced batters are likely to adapt their approach and adjust to the forkball’s break, reducing its effectiveness as a surprise or “out” pitch.

In summary, the forkball can be an effective addition to a pitcher’s arsenal, but it comes with its own set of challenges and risks.

Differentiating Forkball from Similar Pitches

The forkball is a rare pitch in baseball, known for its distinct grip and downward break as it approaches home plate. This pitch is similar to the split-fingered fastball (splitter) in terms of grip and movement but has key differences in execution and results.

One primary difference between the forkball and similar pitches, such as the splitter, is the velocity. While the splitter is thrown with a standard fastball motion and achieves a high speed, the forkball is thrown slower, allowing it to have a nastier downward spin. This downward movement can deceive batters and can make it harder for them to connect with the ball.

Another point of distinction is the grip. To hold a forkball, the pitcher places the ball between their index and middle fingers, with their fingertips resting on the seams. For a splitter, the fingers are spread further apart on the ball, with the fingertips gripping the seams tightly. Consequently, this difference in grip affects how the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and the resulting ball movement.

The torque involved in snapping off a forkball can be more taxing on a pitcher’s arm than other pitches. This strain could be a contributing factor as to why the forkball has become less popular in professional baseball, with most pitchers opting to throw a splitter instead. The splitter, while also offering a significant downward break, is considered a safer alternative to the forkball.

It is important to note that both forkball and splitter can be very effective in deceiving batters due to their deceptive downward motion. However, considering the factors mentioned above, the choice of which pitch to utilize may come down to the pitcher’s preference, arm strength, and individual pitch repertoire.

Tips for Mastering the Forkball

The forkball is a rare and difficult-to-master pitch in baseball, known for its significant downward break as it approaches the plate. It is similar to the split-finger fastball, but the ball is held more deeply between the first two fingers. To help you become proficient in executing the forkball, we provide several tips below.

Firstly, develop a solid grip. Start with a fastball grip and gradually adjust your hand to hold the ball deeper between your first two fingers. Your thumb should be underneath the ball, providing support and enabling you to tuck it into your hand. Achieving the right grip is essential in generating the desired movement and control for this pitch.

Secondly, ensure the correct motion. The forkball should be thrown with a motion between 45-85 degrees and feature rapid backspin movement. This is crucial to create the sharp downward break of the ball as it approaches the batter.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to perfecting the forkball. Dedicate time and effort to improving your grip, motion, and control. Consistently practice throwing the forkball to refine your technique and build muscle memory.

While the forkball might be an unusual weapon in your pitching arsenal, it could give you a considerable advantage over batters if executed well. Keep in mind that mastering the pitch might take time, and due to the torque involved, it could be more taxing on your arm. Make sure to monitor your arm health and integrate appropriate rest and recovery to avoid injury.

By focusing on your grip, motion, and regular practice, you will be well on your way to mastering the elusive forkball and potentially befuddle hitters in the future.