Many people get a forkball confused with a split-finger fastball.
While the two pitches are similar in terms of the grip and how the ball moves out of the pitcher's hand, the forkball is thrown slower and has a nastier downward spin to it.
For the most part, the forkball isn't very popular in professional baseball anymore, with most pitchers preferring to throw a splitter.
Part of the reason for this is because the forkball isn’t an easy pitch to master at all.
Another reason is that the forkball places extra stress on a pitcher's elbow, which can result in significant injury over time. You should be careful of this when learning how to throw a forkball, especially if you're a younger, still-developing player.
That being said, if you’re able to master this pitch -- and not throw it too often -- it could be a devastating addition to your arsenal.
Let's take a step-by-step look at how to throw a forkball.
How to Throw a Forkball
Step #1: Start with a Fastball Grip
As with any pitch, learning how to throw a forkball starts with the grip.
As mentioned before, the grip on a forkball is difficult to master, so you should take a multi-step approach to aligning your hand properly.
The first step is to grip the ball like you would with a two-seam fastball, which you should be familiar with.
To do so, place your middle finger and index finger on the seams of the baseball as you would with the two-seam fastball.
Step #2: Spread the Fingers Out Wide
To learn how to throw a forkball properly, you'll need to have a wide grip on the baseball.
The next step in doing this is to spread out your middle finger and index finger very wide. Ideally, you want both of these fingers to be placed outside of the seams.
The inside of both of these fingers should be pressed up against the outside of the seam on that side of the ball. This will help you grip the ball deep between your fingers.
In terms of the grip, this is where the forkball differs from a splitter.
Step #3: Balance the Grip with Your Thumb
Once your top two fingers have been placed correctly on the ball, you want to ensure balance in your grip with your thumb.
Bend your thumb and place it under the ball.
For a forkball, your middle finger and index finger will do all the work. Your thumb will simply be acting as a support and not an integral part of the grip.
Step #4: Make Sure the Grip Is Tight
Unlike some other pitches, your grip on a forkball should be tight. This is the second major difference between a forkball and splitter.
For a forkball, you want to make sure that the ball is pressed firmly back in between your middle finger and index finger as far as you can.
Of course, you also want to make sure that your grip is comfortable.
So, if jamming the ball too deep between your fingers isn't comfortable, then simply back off how deep you have it until it is.
The fact is that it’s not very easy at all to do this. It's especially tough if you don't have long fingers, which is why many youth pitchers aren't even able to get the basic grip of a forkball down.
Even for older pitchers, digging the ball deep enough between your fingers is challenging.
At the same time, this is also the aspect of a forkball that can cause injury.
Having your fingers spread so wide puts extra pressure on your elbow when you throw. It's why many coaches discourage younger pitchers from even learning how to throw a forkball.
Remember that if you’re going to throw a forkball, you want to make sure you practice the grip over and over again in a non-game situation.
When you go to throw the pitch in a game, you want to make sure that you can hide your grip well. A forkball grip is very easy to spot since your fingers will be spread so wide.
You want to make sure that the batter can't see the grip, or doesn't see you messing with the grip in your glove. Otherwise, he’d predict what pitch you're about to throw.
Step #5: Body Motion
Now that you've got your grip down, it's time to start your body motion.
When you're throwing a forkball, your entire motion should be exactly the same as it is when you're throwing a fastball.
The only difference is that you'll want to make sure your wrist is just a little bit stiffer with a forkball than it is when you're throwing a fastball.
Start your windup in the same fashion as you would when you're throwing a fastball, taking a step back or to the side with your front leg, twisting your hips and body to generate power, and then shifting your weight from the back of your body to the front as your arm goes back and then comes forward to throw.
Step #6: Release Point
One of the keys to throwing a good forkball is making sure you have the proper release point.
Again, you want a batter to think you're throwing a fastball. Because of this, your arm should be in the same position for a forkball as it would be for a fastball.
Your elbow should be positioned in a straight line right above your shoulder, and your hand should be at the exact same point and height as it would be if you were throwing a fastball.
By ensuring that your arm and hand are at the same spot as they would be for a fastball, you'll be making it very difficult for the batter to pick up on what pitch is about to head their way.
You want to make sure that you align your elbow with your shoulders when you go to release the ball.
As always, you need to complete your throwing motion all the way to the end, following through with your arm and having it cross your body so that you get the most momentum on your pitch.
A forkball will be thrown with the same relative force as you throw a fastball.
What will make the forkball a slower pitch is the grip. Since the ball will be held so deeply in your hand, it will create more friction, which will in turn reduce the speed by which the pitch is thrown.
Step #7: Snap That Wrist
The two most important factors in whether you’re able to throw a successful forkball are the grip and how you snap your wrist when you release the ball.
In order for a forkball to act as it's intended to, you'll need to create a good amount of topspin. This will cause the ball to dive down as it approaches the plate.
In order to create the proper topspin, you'll want to snap your wrist just as you release the baseball from your hand.
This is another key difference between a fastball and a forkball.
A fastball is thrown with a lot of backspin, which can cause the ball to rise as it approaches the plate.
With a forkball, you want the ball to die and drop straight down as it approaches the plate.
The way you do this is by creating as much topspin as possible. Snapping your wrist as you release the ball will create the adequate topspin that you'll need.
Again, though, keep in mind that snapping your wrist in this way could cause injury. So, be very careful when you're throwing a forkball.
A forkball is a very difficult pitch to throw.
Not only is the grip extremely challenging to master, but so too is the snapping wrist action that’s required to make sure you get enough topspin on the ball.
For younger players with shorter fingers, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to spread your index and middle fingers wide enough to get the proper grip on the ball. Even older players with longer fingers have a tough time doing so.
Perhaps the biggest reason why younger players probably want to consider throwing a pitch other than a forkball is that it can cause significant injury.
The wide grip that’s required to throw a forkball causes a lot of extra stress on your elbow. In addition, your wrist and forearm will be under a lot of extra stress with the sharp snapping motion that’s required when you go to release the ball.
These are reasons why many pitchers in even professional leagues have abandoned the forkball altogether, opting instead to throw a split-finger fastball.
While the splitter may not be as devastating as the forkball, it’s still a nasty pitch in its own right. In fact, many of the top pitchers in the professional leagues have excellent splitters that serve as their strikeout pitch.
So, while the forkball is one of the most devastating pitches that you can throw, it may be advisable to learn a different pitch -- such as the split-finger fastball.
The splitter will have very similar action and late-breaking downward movement as it approaches the plate. At the same time, it’s considered a very safe pitch to throw since it doesn't put undue stress on any parts of your body.