Mastering The Breaking Ball
owadays in some major league parks they have little neon signs near the scoreboard that will tell the fans the velocity and type of pitch just thrown. Slider, sinker, splitfinger. Rarely does the word curve ever pop up. And when it does, fans will say, Well I guess it must look different down on the field, because I sure didn't see it curve.
|PHYSICS 101: THE CURVEBALL
A curveball can be explained by way of the Bernoulli Principle. The Bernoulli Principle states that the faster an air stream moves, the lower its pressure.
With a proper curve, the ball leaves the pitchers hand spinning. As the ball spins, the air closest to the ball moves along with it. This means that the air on one side of the ball will be moving faster than the air on the opposite side.
This also means that on one side of the ball there is lower air pressure than on the other. The slower moving air on the high-pressure side of the ball exerts greater force on the ball than the faster moving air on the low-pressure side.
The ball is then pushed to one side by the uneven pressure as it moves forward. The greater the spin, the greater the deferential in pressure and the greater the break. Getting it to drop is a question of the downward trajectory from the pitchers hand and the plane of flight caused by hand and arm angle.
And while the technique from one pitcher to another might be similar the results of any two hurlers are rarely the same.
Many fans of today still believe there is no such thing as a curveball, and from their view, you'd have a hard time proving otherwise. But back a generation ago, you didn't need a sign to announce a curveball.
When Sandy Koufax or Steve Carlton threw a curveball, everyone in the stadium knew. A true curveball is a beautiful majestic sight -- an aesthetic event that stuns a hitter and inspires awe. But the truth of the matter is --
GOOD CURVES ARE COMMON, GREAT ARE FEW AND RARE.
THE STATE OF THE MODERN BREAKING BALL
It continues to bother me that two of the breaking pitches I like very much are on the endangered species list. Perhaps because I had a pretty good one, I was always partial to my Uncle Charlie, a pseudonym for the curveball, bender, roundhouse, hook, or outcurve. Or what today might be referred to simply as a big curve.
As right-handed pitcher, I knew my curve was working when the pitch would move inside or over the plate to the right-handed hitter and then curve down and out.
From everything I see these days, this kind of so-called old-fashioned breaking pitch is on sabbatical. You just don't see it as much as you did prior to the 60's. Its once intimidating cousin, The Yellow Hammer, has practically vanished. The Hammer is the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve - a pitch that breaks suddenly and falls off the table - - its movement resembling the darting action of the Yellow Hammer bird as it sharply dives for an insect.
The newcomers on the block are the power slider and the cutter. These new boys are good, but they are quick fixes -- much easier to learn than a curveball and much more likely to be called for strikes. For those good reasons, they have become popular with the current generation of pitchers.
Oh, I've seen some pretty decent ones, and I even taught both sliders and cutters to college pitchers to enhance their repertoire and increase their survival kit. But given my druthers, I would preach Charlie to the high heavens. A well developed Uncle Charlie or Yellow Hammer is majestic and its pitching to an art form. These are pitches that can stun a hitter. Too often however they stun the umpire who is unwilling to recognize their brief intersection with the strike zone. Ultimately, the hitter learns that chasing such a challenging target is foolish, especially foolish when eight times out of ten they will not result in called strikes. Consequently, such rude treatment has placed Charlie and the Hammer on the endangered species list.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of the traditional curve and compare it to the power slider,
today's weapon of choice.
THE PROS AND CONS OF POWER CURVES AND POWER SLIDERS
||Hard to get over. Tough to get called strikes.
||Easy to throw for strikes. More apt to be called for strikes.
||Great two-dimensional break.
||Modest break. Great rotation can give it second stage le.
||Early break may tip it off.
||Late break is hard to recognize.
||Catchers may have trouble, especially when low.
||Little trouble for good catchers. Easier pitch to frame.
||Takes time to master.
||Easy to learn.
||Easier on arm.
||Hard on arm.
||Can get away with a pitch right over the plate.
||Can't locate up in strike zone. Hanging slider is HR pitch.
||When it goes down, it is extremely difficult to hit.
||Most hitters develop bat speed to hit it. It can overpower weak hitters.
||Off-speed nature enables it to be used as change-up. Angle and delivery can vary.
||Has to be thrown with velocity. Dependent on great rotation which won't always take.
You don't have much gray area on the rotation of Uncle Charlie. There is no compromise. The spin must be 6/12 or 1/7. Much less than that and the pitch becomes a slurve, which isn't much of a pitch at all. And the elbow drops, you wind up with a flat curve and an escalating ERA.
A slider, on the other hand, can become a cutter or a slurve without much commotion.
Over the years, the truly outstanding curveball has gradually lost favor. We cannot say it has vanished because pitchers like David Wells and Daryl Kile are still winning twenty games with outstanding Uncle Charlie's. However, the strike zone - as reinvented by major league umpires - has given rise to a preponderance of short curves, hard curves, sliders, and cutters, which tend to spend a great deal more time over the plate.
IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE THE MAJOR LEAGUES CURRENT INTENTION TO RAISE THE STRIKE ZONE WILL ENCOURAGE MORE CURVES TO BE THROWN.
Though I favor the traditional curve, the slider is not a pitch to take lightly. One could liken it to comparing a newer beauty like Gwyneth Paltrow to an older beauty like Sophia Loren. Both women like both pitches are creatures of beauty and will turn heads. Both have shapes that can delight, but then there are curves and there are curves. . ..
ANATOMY OF A POWER SLIDER
What constitutes a great slider or even a good one is a matter of opinion. Many pitchers claim they are throwing sliders when in reality, what they are throwing isn't anything more than a poor curve. Some pitchers have the aforementioned slurve, which is questionable in terms of effectiveness. Some have a cut fastball, which can be effective, but for most is not as effective as a slider. Illustration of the path of a slider
The slider is a pitch that was developed in the thirties and according to many experts played a large part in the extinction of the .400 hitter. Ted Williams, for one, said that as his career progressed, the slider, and not the fastball, was the pitch that he began to look for. Batters of today are beginning to catch up with the wisdom of Williams and with the slider as well. Most today tune their bats in at slider speed. Consequently, a mediocre slider will inevitably betray a pitcher. Mediocre sliders are probably one of the greatest contributors to the home run barrage of recent years. But that doesn't mean the pitch should be scuttled. Instead, it is to be used, it must be perfected.
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE SLIDER LIES IN THE BATTERS DIFFICULTY IN DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN IT AND THE PITCHERS FASTBALL.
The fastball habits of a good slider
- The slider should move like a fastball until it drops across the plate
- It should be nearly as fast as a fastball. (Within 5 m.p.h. to be a power slider.)
- Like a fastball it should have extremely tight rotation.
- It should be thrown with fastball arm speed.
A pitcher with an average fastball might apt to become overly reliant on the slider, but for it truly to be effective, it must be intelligently mixed in with the fastball. A good slider that gets the hitter thinking about it, timing his bats for it, will make ones fastball, even an average one more potent.
THROWING THE SLIDER
As with any pitch, the pitcher must bring his slider into the lab and discover for himself what finger pressure and grips work best and what arm angles best enhance those grips. However, there are certain requisites necessary to the manufacture of a slider.
- It must be thrown from the top of the ball.
- It should be given a sharp karate-chop type of cut with two fingers (index and middle).
- The elbow must be kept high (above shoulder).
- Wrist action is responsible for imparting extreme hand speed.
- To get good movement and save wear on the arm, a smooth follow-through to finish is required.
SHOULD KIDS THROW THE CURVE BALL?
Until you mature, you probably don't want to be fooling with a full-fledged curve ball. Instead you and your coaches should think about developing a Little League curve.
I think keeping kids away from the curve ball has as much to do with mental maturation as it does physical maturation. At a young age, boys especially, are apt to be reckless with their bodies and will impulsively allow results to guide form rather than building results out of good form. And it certainly is easier to do damage to your arm before your bones have
calcified, and your sinew is etched.
You cannot learn a curve for a career in an afternoon. Arm pain is not a prerequisite for developing a curve. The no pain, no gain school of thought does not hold here.
If your arm ever starts hurting, you need to stop throwing until it can be figured out what you're doing wrong. And
if it keeps hurting, seek medical advice from a qualified physician.
Throwing through pain is stupid, especially for a young man who has most of his career in front of him.
| THE LITTLE LEAGUE CURVE
The little league pitcher who has developed his fastball, has solid mechanics and good control, can add a breaking pitch to his toolbox, providing he doesn't get carried away. The curve should be an occasional pitch thrown some at the end of practice. Little league pitchers must throw a lot of fastballs to develop a strong arm and nothing should take priority over that.
With this pitch the idea should be to emphasize hand and arm angle as opposed to any twisting or snapping motion. With the elbow up, the hand should turn as throwing a football, and through release, the arm should come down as delivering a karate chop. Some spin action can be given with the thumb and middle finger, but rather than encouraging a snapping movement, the little leaguer should be taught to release the pitch with the thumb finishing up. Follow-through is a must. No discomfort should occur with this delivery.
If there is any discomfort the pitch should be abandoned immediately.
Another alternative for the little leaguer looking to get movement is to throw a slightly off-center palm-ball (see chapter on changing speeds). The palm-ball can be thrown exactly the same as the fastball and when done properly will tail downward.
I also strongly encourage younger kids to really work at getting movement on their fastballs. The wrist drill explained later in the book
site is an ideal way for kids to learn the concept of spin and experience the burn of the spin coming off their fingertips.
For complete information on throwing the Curve and the Slider, check out The Act of Pitching. Teaching breaking pitches shouldn't be done halfway, and it just can't be covered in the same depth on this site as it can in my book. Even with the book one shouldn't attempt to develop a curve without expert guidance. To attempt to do so is certain folly.