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The Forkleball Returns

Three years after the “forkleball” was discovered, a new Twins pitcher has been throwing a similar version of the pitch.

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Back in 2013, Robert Coello was pitching in anonymity for the Los Angeles Angels. It wasn’t his first year in the majors as he had appeared in six games apiece during the 2011 and 2012 seasons for the Blue Jays, but up until that year he hadn’t done anything special. That is, until he ripped off this fantastic pitch and baseball fans were introduced to the “forkleball.”

The forkball is similar to a splitter except the index and middle fingers are split even further, often leading to the ball getting jammed deeper into the split. Typically the pitch is used similarly to a change-up, except Coello had discovered that he could get the ball to slip out of his fingers with little to no spin and move unpredictably, just like a knuckleball. Hence, the “forkleball.”

I found it interesting that a major leaguer featured this pitch considering I had a high school teammate that threw the same. Unfortunately he wasn’t a pitcher, but he had the ability to spread his fingers far enough that the ball would slip out each time as if he was tossing a knuckler.

Earlier this season, the Twins acquired Pat Light and as I usually do with new acquisitions, I checked out his pitch types. After glancing at pitchF/X, it sure looked pretty clear that Light threw a fastball, slider, and cutter. Okay, nothing left to see here, we’re all done.

Well, it wasn’t that easy. While at Inside Edge, I had the Twins last Friday and Light came in to pitch against the Blue Jays. To my surprise, we had a splitter listed for Light instead of a slider. How? I was so confused. I consulted pitchF/X again and was utterly confused.

Look at that shotgun scatter down at the bottom. It’s nowhere near as extreme as Coello, but it sure is a mess of unpredictable movement. Just how unpredictable is Light’s splitter? Well, let’s check out some video.

F/X called that a curve. However, Suzuki threw down four fingers, the universal baseball sign for a change-up or splitter.

Here’s another.

This was called a slider. Once again, it was actually Light’s splitter.

Just for good measure, let’s get one with significant break into a righthanded batter, or, one of the few pitches F/X called a change-up.

As you might imagine, that pitch was difficult to command for Light. As I was reviewing his appearance against the Jays, the majority of his splitters were thrown inside to righthanded hitters. They didn’t typically force Kurt Suzuki to sprawl like the one above, but Light was significantly missing nearly every single time. However, for most years in the minors his walk rate was tolerable so it seems that his lack of command hasn’t been a chronic problem for his professional career.

One thing I’d like to add as well is that I’m pretty certain Light is getting inconsistent spin on the ball rather than no spin like Coello. In some regards this is similar to Sam Deduno, who had a “crazy fastball” that unpredictably cut or sank when he threw it. It will be interesting to see if Light is able to command this mysterious pitch because I feel it could pair well with his mid-90s fastball to give hitters fits over the next few years.