Grabbing the Knob of the Bat: A Bad Idea?

Yoenis Cespedes is on his rehab assignment and nearing a return this weekend. When he returns, something will be different about him. Beyond the fact that he might play left field — he’s played there at least once while in the minor leagues — the careful observer might notice something different about his swing. The Athletics have asked him to stop holding the knob of the bat. From Susan Slusser:

There is thought that holding the knob in the palm might have contributed to the strained hand muscle that put him on the DL this month.

Sluggers have used this grip since the days of Babe Ruth if you listen to the stories. Has the practice been contributing to injury all this time?

Trying to start with the players that use that grip and then investigate their instance of injury seems like folly. There is no system that records bat grip now, and combing through the names one-by-one just points out the impossibility of even finding even an anecdotal answer.

Twitter-sourcing gets you some names. Pablo Sandoval is the first player that comes to mind — he’s gripped the knob his whole career and now he has no hamate bones. David Ortiz has had some famous wrist problems. Mark McGwire held the bat as far down as he could, and he had some wrist injuries. Jason Heyward is a knob-grabber and has had some thumb problems in his young career. Juan Uribe‘s career is littered with wrist problems. Brandon Phillips has been fairly healthy, but when he has missed days, it’s often been to hand and wrist situations — about five days a year for the past five years at least.

But Miguel Cabrera grips the bat at the end and has been remarkably healthy over his career, and even teammate Magglio Ordonez can’t blame all those leg injuries on his grip. Ryan Howard also uses the grip, and he’s had injuries, but not to his hand or wrist. Moises Alou preferred to drop a finger over the knob, but all those nicks and cuts he had throughout his career mostly happened to his legs. You could say the same about Chipper Jones, too. Bobby Abreu has been fairly healthy.

And so on and so forth, without any estimable conclusion. The subject seems almost impossible to figure.

If you admit that you are sampling selectively, though, you can take a different angle at the situation. In the last ten years, 49 non-pitcher players have had multiple visits to the DL for hand and wrist issues. 20 of them grip the bat on the end.

Even this more compelling number is fraught with problems. The sample is relatively small. It is perhaps biased towards players that are injury-prone. These players could have been hurt by anything — a hit-by-pitch, a botched grounder, a foul ball at the plate — and this isn’t necessarily because of their grip. But look at Jayson Werth, Jed Lowrie, Mark DeRosa, Michael Cuddyer, and Nick Johnson, and the list gains a sort of illegitimate legitimacy.

Let’s say it’s possibly a bad idea to grip the bat like this — obviously the Athletics think it might be. Why would players do it. Easy — leverage. Professor Alan Nathan is known for his work on the physics of baseball. He told me the reasoning, and the flaws as he saw them:

If the batter swings the bat by rotating it about some point near the body, then getting the barrel of the bat as far from the body as possible will get the highest bat speed in the barrel (which is where it counts). One way to do that is to grip the bat so that the hands overlap the knob. Of course, this whole thing assumes that the batter can rotate the bat as fast in that position as in the normal position. This kind of thing is not so uncommon in slow-pitch softball, where bat “quickness” (the ability to get around quickly) is not a big problem. I suspect it is not so common in Major League Baseball.

And indeed, if you search the internets for talk of ‘knob-grabbing’ — make sure your SafeSearch is on — you get many forums talking about the benefit of the grip in slow-pitch softball, where the need for power trumps the need for contact. But it does seem at least semi-prevalent in the majors, so there are those that choose to see past the risks for the power.

In the case of Cespedes, the power seems obvious — it’s drool-inducing to many — but the numbers so far (.189 isolated slugging, 15.4% swinging strike rate, 24.4% strikeout rate) seem to suggest that while he could benefit from making more contact, a power dropoff would bring his overall batting line much closer to league average.

Those players that choose to grab the handle at the knob do so for the extra power, knowing that it may have some adverse effects. Bat control, the ability to turn the bat quickly, and maybe even susceptibility to hand and wrist injuries — these may be the things they are willing to trade for the barrel speed and the power they seek. After all, by making it to Major League Baseball, they showed that they have most of those risk factors mostly in hand, and it’s the power that brings the bigger paychecks.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

39 Responses to “Grabbing the Knob of the Bat: A Bad Idea?”

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  1. Y’know, oddly enough I’ve been trying this in BP the last few days. The ball jumps off the bat pretty nicely, but I do get considerably more achy in my hand after the round.

    Probably means nothing, but I can see why they’d make him change it.

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    • rageon says:

      Grabbing the bat with my left little finger past the end of the bat was a bad habit I picked up when I was a kid and never lost (sort of like my silly Gary Sheffield pre-pitch bat movement). I finally stopped doing it a year ago (we’re talking about slow-pitch softball here), and noticed my left hand hurting far less than before. In the past I’d need a well-padded batting glove, but now I really don’t feel one is necessary.

      Although within the context of this article, I do wonder if softball is distinguishable (aside from the obvious) due to the use of metal bats.

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  2. chuckb says:

    I wonder if Jason Heyward would like being called “a knob-grabber.” Do you suppose he got that nickname in the Braves’ locker room?

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    • Edwin says:

      I’ve often thought that Heyward would get much better results if he kept both hands on the shaft throughout. It’s probably cut down on him spraying to all fields.

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  3. If there’s one person that can give definitive information about this, it has to be Batting Stance Guy.

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  4. wilt says:

    I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure Heyward injured his thumb sliding in head-first.

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    • yo-yo says:

      It would seem like it would cause more problems in the pinky side of the palm then the thumb.

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    • harpago17 says:

      You are not wrong. As an avid follower of the Braves, I can tell you that the given reason for his thumb injury was always that he injured it on a headfirst slide. Headfirst slides probably count for enough injuries to justify and entirely different post.

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    • yo-yo says:

      Are big league players using those, are they legal?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I think so. Well, I don’t know. Here’s Alex Rodriguez’ bat, which has a smaller knob.

        If it was as simple as that bat, you’d think the A’s would have just suggested that…

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      • yo-yo says:

        I looked it up, these bad as BADEN-AXE bats have been MLB approved since 2010.

        I’m gonna watch the games more closely to see who might be using them. It has me thinking about older players like David Ortiz and Paul Konerko who have revived their careers since the start of 2010 with both of them utilizing opposite field hitting more. Just has me thinking.

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      • joser says:

        You’d think they’d mention somewhere the pro players they’re supplying. But probably that requires them to pay MLB (and MLBPA) endorsement money. Of course somebody could shoot them an email and ask, I guess. (Or I could drive down there, since they’re just in Federal Way). Dang it, now I’m going to be watching for these things to show up too…

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  5. Jon says:

    I’m surprised a search for “knob-grabbing” doesn’t turn up more than slow pitch softball sites. Seems like a dangerous search to me.

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  6. Michael says:

    You can see here visual evidence of what David Ortiz does to his hand –

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  7. yo-yo says:

    Remember all the publicity Moises Alou got a few years back for soaking his hands in urine to prevent blisters? Supposedly it toughened up the callouses. I’m going to presume he was using his own urine instead of having teammates hose his hands down.

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  8. cpebbles says:

    I think Fred McGriff choked down so much that the knob of the bat was between his index and middle fingers.

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  9. Jason H says:

    I have always hit with the pinky of my bottom hand off the bat and my ring finger on the knob. I tape the handle so that it tapers to the knob. The reason I have always done this is that it is simply more comfortable. With none of the bat below your hand, it is easier and more natural to have a straight path from your arms through the length of the bat. It doesn’t hurt at all to bat this way. I use no gloves. Never had any problems. …of course, I don’t take nearly as many swings as a professional….

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  10. Jonas Fester says:

    I used to grip off of the knob too when I played. Many I played with in college and pro ball did the same thing. We would usually tape an extended knob out of softer tape so it wouldn’t put too much pressure on the hand, and give a gradual taper. Bruises and breaks to the hamate bone is fairly common in baseball, and not cushioning the space between the knob and the hand could contribute to this.

    As far as utility, I found that my bat path was smoother, and I was swinger a longer bat but not with added weight. Not sure if any of it was true however.

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  11. scottiedub says:

    “Jason Heyward is a knob-grabber and has had some thumb problems in his young career. ”

    This sentence has caused me to register an account on fangraphs. Interesting article as a whole.

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  12. Brian says:

    Carlos Lee was smoking hot in 2008 before Arroyo crushed his pinky finger against the knob with a fastball, missed the rest of the season.

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  13. Robert Odden says:

    I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t let any of these guys who practice knob grabbing near my children.

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  14. Mike M says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing more about organizations mandating a no-knob policy to their prospects. The A’s just kicked off Knobgate 2012.

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    • Jason B says:

      I can’t imagine that…it’s one thing to ask a player rehabbing a hand or wrist injury to try out a different grip, but to attempt to mandate a team-wide rule to a bunch of perfectly healthy knob-grabbers? I just can’t see that.

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    • joser says:

      Teams mandate things for their minor affiliates all the time. The Union would stop them from doing it team-wide, but once it’s been going on long enough in enough minor orgs, it takes care of itself.

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  15. danwatson19 says:

    I wonder if hand size would be a factor in such injuries? No idea if there’s records of such things.

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  16. jlwoj says:

    “In the last ten years, 49 non-pitcher players have had multiple visits to the DL for hand and wrist issues. 20 of them grip the bat on the end.”

    Isn’t the biggest problem with this number that we have no idea what the proportion of players who hit like this is, and thus we have no way to interpret the 20/49 figure?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Yeah that number has a ton of problems, but I’d say that subjectively, 20/49 is much higher than the percentage of players that grip the knob. Maybe one or two per lineup do?

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  17. joser says:

    There’s also selection bias potentially in play here. If gripping the knob does tend to lead to injuries, the players that make it the majors with that grip are more likely to be the ones resistant to such injuries, since the others already either had their careers derailed or changed their grips.

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  18. Metsox says:

    Is markakis a knob holder? Apparently he hurt his Hamata bone on a slide but then broke it with a swing…

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  19. Tom says:

    Looks like this “Whip Strip” product will help all those who swing with knob in bottom hand. interesting

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  20. Hey there says:

    Is it safe to refer to the players named in this article as habitual knob-grabbers?

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