LOL at the idea that using d'Nealian will encourage use to use fewer workbooks.
Many good workbooks that require a lot of writing are available in different text styles, as they recognize that many homeschoolers choose different styles for different reasons. I'm also finding that books designed specifically for homeschoolers are more likely to have alternative writing styles than mass-produced books. But it's still somewhat a matter of luck.
I try to avoid books that include tracing letters/words etc, for exactly this reason. Much prefer ones that are blank. I've had a lot of luck with currclick.com. Also, philosophies like Charlotte Mason and Waldorf (which I don't follow strictly, but do incorporate), don't use "workbooks" per se, at least not much... rather, you read real books and kids do copywork into their own notebooks (as well as drawing, etc). That way, you can use whatever handwriting style works best for you!
Anyway, as to the basic question of d'Nealian vs. ball and stick. I had this conundrum half a decade ago, when my son was learning to write. He learned ball and stick, because like you, it was all I'd ever heard of in terms of preschoolers writing, and all the learn-to-write workbooks we got used it. His writing was HORRIBLE.
It was only a few years later than I learned about d'Nealian, and it was like the scales fell off my eyes! Not much later, I also learned about the 'cursive first' idea, and I rejected once and for all the ball-and-stick nonsense!
D'Nealian is NOT difficult, if you think your child is doing better with it, then get a simple instruction book and learn it yourself. It's really not a big deal. We found TONS of free worksheets online.
But there are lots of other great handwriting options to explore. "Handwriting Without Tears" is very popular (though I haven't used it myself), and has its own distinctive font style.
Another suggestion would be going straight to cursive. I won't preach here about why... there's lots of great resources online. Of course, then you have the issue of deciding WHICH cursive style lol... Anyway, there's even a workbook called "Cursive First" that I'm thinking of using for DD.
Yet one more suggestion is Penny Gardner's "Italics: Beautiful Handwriting for Children". It bears some similarities to d'Nealian but is very different in other ways. The print italics is preparation for the cursive italics, similar to how d'Nealian is more of a direct preparation for cursive than ball-and-stick is. Gardner's italics are similar to Getty-Dubay, which I explored as well. There are very nice-looking workbooks for Getty-Dubay. I went with Gardner because a) she's a great homeschooler who I've had the chance to chat with on mailing lists, b) I could download it as an e-book c) she's Charlotte Mason so the book includes tips and samples for copywork and d) it's just one little book, which covers EVERYTHING, and is very affordable. The idea is, you do these minimal practice pages to learn the letter formation, then you practice on your own with copywork, so you don't need a half dozen workbooks just to learn how to write!
As much as I love d'Nealian, it never really 'stuck' with DS. His cursive went fairly well, but he still would constantly revert back to his sloppy printing, and once he had the basics in cursive it never actually got any better. (I wish I'd known then what I know now and started him better in the first place...) Our latest effort to improve his horrific writing is Gardner's Italics, and it is helping. He enjoys the pages and the script style.
DD is only 3 and just starting to write a few letters. I find that when I demonstrate a letter for her, it tends to be a kind of blend... more round than Gardner's italics, like d'Nealian, and with the d'Nealian 'tail' on most letters, but very influenced by Gardner in terms of direction of formation and branching lines...
ANYWAY. I just wanted to make one more point. You said 'Since I don't know the proper way to do the d'nealian I should switch him back to ball and stick, right?'
This is something to watch out for when homeschooling -- not just in handwriting, but in ALL subject areas. We do not have to teach our kids only the things we know! Or only the WAYS that we know. In fact, most of the time, the way we learned things is FAR from the best way. It can take a bit of work on our part, researching options and learning new ways of thinking and doing and learning, but it's SO rewarding, we as adults end up learning new and fantastic things so our lives are improved as well... it's just a trap to watch out for, just automatically doing something a certain way just because
that's how we did it, and therefore we're afraid that we won't teach it very well if we do anything differently.