ANATOMY OF A SCREWBALL
Breaking & Off-speed Pitches
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By Dr. John Bagonzi
Dr. John A. Bagonzi is a
former pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization, current
director of the Championship Pitching Camp, and author of The
Act of Pitching, published by Pitching Professor Publications.
One of the often maligned, and yet misunderstood pitches used
rarely in today's pitching menu is the screwball (AKA screwgy,
incurve). The obvious rarity of this pitch among the greatest
pitchers of the past and even today's great pitchers suggests
the difficulty in:
1. Mastering it.
2. Understanding it completely.
3. The lack of necessity for the screwball.
4. The potential for arm injury and /or stress to the arm.
It is however interesting to note that two great outstanding
pitchers: 1) Carl Hubbell - N.Y. Giants; and 2) Mike
L.A. Dodgers, made successes out of their careers by employing
this unusual and difficult pitch. Mike Marshall in my opinion,
is the best reliever of all times and the possessor of the
most complete array of screwballs ever.
Screwballs are essentially:
1. Reverse curve balls
2. Reverse sliders
3. Reverse out-drops
They manifest the same intersection with the strike zone as
all of the above regular curve-type pitches, but from a different
(opposite) breaking angle. These pitches are not for the light hearted and are hardly
recommended as standard fare on the pitching menu. There are basically five types of screwballs and their individuality
should be noted:
Conventional variety - this is mainly a 9-3 rotation (RHP)
which breaks into a RHB and away from LHB. This is flat and
one-dimensional. It is more pronounced than a tailing fastball
albeit slower in mph.
Reverse slider type - this is a spiral type spin with an
action similar to a slider but with a reverse effect.
screwgy - like a drop curve - but downward pronation
- exists mainly with downward spin.
THE HYBRID - this is the great screwball down and in to
RHB and away to a LHB. This is a marriage of the down screwgy
with the conventional screwball. For a RHP it represents an
11-5 rotation. This is the reverse equivalent of the yellow
hammer curve ball.
Screwball - as far as I know, only Mike Marshall
ever possessed this to a perfected degree. It breaks away
from a right-handed batter - it requires extreme pronation
of the wrist and the shoulder gets into the act. This is basically
a rotation similar to a curve and tends to break like one.
This should not be tried by any novice and is an extremely
advanced form of screwball.
Screwballs are essentially aberrations. A purist however, should
know something about them to appreciate the artisans of the
past who threw them with success:
Hubbel - N.Y. Giants
Higbe - Pittsburgh Pirates
Jim Bagby - Cleveland Indians
McGraw - N.Y. Giants
Brewer - Chicago Cubs
Cuellar - Baltimore Orioles
Valenzuela - L.A. Dodgers
Marshall - L.A. Dodgers (probably the greatest screwball
thrower of them all.)
Is a screwball recommended? NO! Unless one is very flexible
in the wrist and the pitch can be thrown without discomfort
and the delivery is not stressful to the thrower. Why use a screwball?
Interestingly, some cannot throw a conventional
curve ball. This (screwball) is surely a good pitch for right-handers
to throw to lefty batters. This is not to suggest if one cannot
use it on a RHB.
Anyone with good concepts of rotation and understanding of
spins is a good prospect for throwing a screwgy. If
one needs to develop an extra pitch, it is basically on sabbatical
HOW TO GRIP - I prefer two seams with conventional screwballs
(although four seams can be used)
On a conventional screwball RHP - fingers are turned in
toward face and up thumb is pronated outward.
ON A DOWN SCREWGY - fingers are away and down and thumb
is completely pronated and hand makes a juncture with wrist
at nearly 90°.
Reverse slider screwgy - fingers are pointing toward batter
- thumb is pronated outward and spiral spin is effected.
Down and in screwball - hand is 45 deg; or so - fingers
are on the front and down.
Extreme Screwball - fingers are pointing down and extreme
pronation executed - this is not for amateurs or even novice
pros - only Mike Marshall throws this one effectively. I put
this in here for information particularly for the curious
Note: I advise 4 seams to get tighter rotation and to disguise
the rotation; however, on these particular pitches one should
experiment with 2 seams as it may make the ball act more.
I advise the four seamers for the reverse slider and the ultimate,
Mike Marshal's extreme screwball. Of course, a two seamer can be used as a variation on all screwballs
the same way this alignment can be used for conventional curve
Learning rotations for unusual pitches, such
as the screwgy - the aspiring pitcher wishing to develop a
serious consciousness and awareness on spin dynamics, can
use the concomitant knowledge which easily translates to improving
fastball movement and the enhancement of other pitches.
COMMENTS - Screwball ala - MIKE MARSHALL (The real version)
many of the pitchers who used screwballs in their pitching
repertoires and in most instances, had screwgies which were
outstanding; these were in the infantile stage compared
to Mike Marshall's version of the screwball. He took and has
taken the screwball to not only a higher level but to a rarefied
zone that possibly only he has realized. Everyone is familiar with the:
9-3 (RHP) version - an inshoot to a right-handed batter
or away from a left handed batter - this is like a tailing
fast ball but with quick veer - breaks laterally.
10-4 version - has lateral and vertical movement - this
is the Valenzuela edition - Tug McGraw also.
11-5 version - more the downward break - very effective
- stress on shoulder considerable.
12-6 downer - very similar to curve ball - but thrown with
opposite pronation - in effect this is the reverse curve ball.
Finally, the almost impossible - 1-7 (not recommended) that
improbably breaks away from a RHB - but thrown with screwball
pronation - only Mike Marshall has ever thrown this, to my
knowledge, and I have seen him thrown this so I know it exists.
One has to have the shoulder anatomy and development and understanding
to ever throw this pitch.
So there are screwballs and then
there are screwballs.
To understand these is to progress into the generally misunderstood
area of aerodynamics. It is probably worth the time. For more info on screwballs and
computer animations on throwing the screwball, check PAUL
NYMAN'S www.setpro.com web site.