In the last couple weeks I’ve helped three pitchers “fix” their curveball (two college guys and a high school dude) with really fulfilling success. Now, they have a hard time verbalizing exactly what is wrong… or even what they’d like to see their curveball do… but they realize and recognize the pitch isn’t right. I take an open mind to the pitch and first just try to observe it. What does it do? What kind of shape is it? And how would I improve it?
Like a broken record (and in all three of these cases), my recommendation is typically to gain more depth, more top-to-bottom, more 12-to-6. There usually isn’t a problem getting side-to-side movement. Instead, the challenge is to gain more depth. And that’s where the physical fix comes in (see below).
First, let’s discuss why more depth is a good thing. In general, we want breaking balls to “break” across two planes – the horizontal plane (side-to-side) and the vertical plane (top-to-bottom). In my opinion, the top-to-bottom break is both more difficult to hit… and more difficult to throw. On all pitches, depth is a desired trait. Depth, or tilt, or downward trajectory, is harder to elevate. Which means more ground balls (singles) and less lifted fly balls (doubles and homers). As I’ve grown older, I realize that coaches see the numbers over time. Give me 1000 ground balls and I’ll take my chances. That means the offense has to get three hits in an inning to score a run – get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in – before they get three outs. It’s simply a numbers game, and we’ll take our chances with ground balls (so long as you command the fastball and pitch with aggressive confidence).
Curveballs are no different. The more flat a curveball is (side-to-side), the longer it stays on the bat plane, and thus the easier it is for a hitter to make contact. The more vertical a curveball is (top-to-bottom), the faster the pitch cuts through the swing plane, and thus the more difficult it is for a hitter to square up. All that understood, let’s discuss the physical fix to gain more depth and “fix” the curveball.
Fixing the Curveball = Palm-to-Head
You want more top-to-bottom break? Turn the hand so that the palm faces the head at release. This means the ball will spill over the fingers are release, rather than be pushed-by them (which for first-time curveballers is a really difficult thing to get used to). Doing this results in topspin, which causes a greater amount of friction or drag when the seams hit the air, and thus greater downward action. The keyword here is SPIN. We need topspin! We need the baseball to spin directly AT home plate. The further the hand turns towards the side of the face at release, the closer the spin moves towards topspin, and the more top-to-bottom movement associated with the pitch:
- Minimally turned, with adjusted or offset grip = Cutter
- Slightly turned = Slider
- Half-way home = Slurve
- Full turn so that palm faces head = Curveball
The real fix is exaggerating that “palm turn”. Pitchers are never are as far turned as they think.
So, the pitch flattens out, loses it’s depth, and becomes more hit-able. Less swings-and-misses and more contact. A frustrating combo and seemingly HS and College pitching coaches don’t know what the missing ingredient is.
I tell guys to flip me off at release. “Over-exaggerate that palm-turn so it almost feels like you are backhanding me! Like you are flipping me off and the back of your hand is facing me.” Doing this actually gets them closer to a face-to-palm position rather than truly backhand position, and the immediate result is more depth! It’s amazing and refreshing, and I can see them smile and sigh with relief: “Ahhh, there’s the sneaky bastard! Where the heck have you been?”
Now, this SHOULD feel strange. And it should be an exaggerated effort by the pitcher to get his fingers around the baseball at release.
First Priority = SPIN
Get the spin correct by using the exaggerated adjustment of palm to face (flip me off). Once the spin is adjusted, hold that release constant while allowing yourself time to figure out release. It’s only a matter of time and repetitions until the body learns where release needs to be and location improves. But!!! Only if the release is held constant and SPIN is maintained. So first things first, get topspin. Keyword = Spin
By the way, can you answer this question: What is the keyword on the Change Up?
Play hard, have fun! I’ll get some video on this blog post this weekend, while I celebrate mother’s day by helping pitchers 🙂 Love you mom, and wife!