Engineering students build a knuckleball throwing machine


This is fun. Some University of Toronto mechanical engineering students, inspired by R.A. Dickey and with his input, created a pitching machine that does what no other pitching machine does: throw knuckleballs:

. . . four mechanical engineering students at the University of Toronto set out to “demystify” the knuckleball by attempting to build the world’s first pitching machine that would replicate the notoriously capricious pitch on a consistent basis . . . On paper, it seemed doable. If they could control all the variables — velocity, air conditions, the orientation of the ball — theoretically they should be able to propel the ball exactly the same way every time.

It threw knucklers, but didn’t do it the same way every time. Which they talk about as a failure or a problem, but to me it seems more like what you’d actually want given that no two knucklers from an actual pitcher tend to be propelled the same way every time. They flutter and float and if someone sneezes in the fifth row behind the dugout they flutter and float differently. That is both a feature and a bug of the famously frustrating pitch.

Sadly, there was no commercial application here. They though it’d be good to train catchers and hitters to better handle knucklers, but the fact is there aren’t many knucklers left. At any given time in baseball there are, what, two? One most of the time. And R.A. Dickey may not have much time left himself.

Still, as with all things neat but pointless: cool.