Curveball Tips

By Steven Ellis former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

Curveball arm actionAlthough baseball pitching grips are an important starting point in learning any new pitch, the grip itself is overrated when learning to throw the curveball.

In fact, unlike change-ups or sliders which have essentially just one generic grip, there are MANY different breaking ball grips a pitcher can use. Our own pitching grips page contains three different curveball grips.

However, the one constant with all three grips is the position of the throwing hand on the side of the baseball itself. Therefore, the key to throwing a great curveball is in the position of the hand, not the position of the baseball in the hand.

Another essential element in throwing an effective curveball is to have the exact same arm speed and tempo as the fastball. To do this, the pitcher should subconsciously repeat “fastball, fastball, fastball” in his mind throughout the entire curveball delivery. Only at the last minute, when the arm is in the high-cock position, does the pitcher think “curveball” and turn the ball over. This subconscious reiteration of pitching commands helps a pitcher maintain the same body posture and arm tempo as the fastball delivery. It’s through the fastball delivery that the pitcher will find the sharpest break and most dramatic movement on the curveball.

Curveball pitching tips

Even more, the only difference between the fastball and curveball–besides the grip itself–is the positioning of the hand upon release of the thrown baseball. With the fastball, the hand is directly behind the ball, and the index- and middle-fingers are on top of the baseball. With the curveball, the hand is to the throwing-arm side of the ball (like a tomahawk chop) and the fingers are pointing at the target. This can be a literal “point” to the target as outlined in our beginner's curveball description, or, it can be an “imaginary” point to the target as explained in our straight- and knuckle-curveball grips.

Remember, a pitcher must maintain the exact same mechanical rhythm and tempo with all of his pitches, but no more is this necessary than with the curveball because the pitch works only if it is thrown with fastball-like pitching mechanics.

A humping curveball is a hittable curveball, and a hittable curveball is an ineffective curveball. To eliminate the hump, bring the elbow of the throwing hand to shoulder height. Looping-humping curveballs result from a deviation from the very same pitching mechanics of the fastball. In other words, if you drop your elbow on the fastball delivery, you’ll likely run the baseball into the dangerous upper region of the hitter’s swing zone. It’s the same with the curve: If the pitcher drops his elbow just prior of the release of the pitch, the pitch has no where to go but up before the natural spin can bring it back down again. Unfortunately, when the pitch does come back down, it’s in the hitter’s eyes, or even worse, right in the hitter’s swing-path.

To correct this mechanical flaw, get on top of the pitch and release the ball with the throwing elbow level with the shoulder. Release the pitch slightly out in front of the head so the baseball has no where to go but down into the lower region of the strike zone. That way, even if you make a mistake with the pitch, or it doesn’t rotate properly, you won’t get hurt with the location because it’s down and out of the hitter’s swing-path. The best curveball is the one that’s in and out of the hitter’s swing zone the quickest. Not only does this decrease a hitter’s chance of making contact with the pitch, but it gives the pitcher the very best chance to “put the hitter away.”

A hitter’s bat typically sweeps across the strike zone with the barrel slightly lower than the hands. Therefore, if a pitcher is thumbing a one-to-seven- or two-to-eight-o’clock curve, they instantly give the hitter, whose swing-path is on the exact same one-to-seven-o’clock direction, an opportunity to make contact at numerous points on his bat. Just think–if the hitter misses the pitch with the middle of the bat, he can still get it with the end of the bat because the barrel is lower than the hands and the bat is sweeping in the exact same direction as the curveball.

Curveball pitching tipsNow take the 12-to-six-o’clock curveball. This pitch is “in-and-out” of the hitter’s zone quickly and efficiently giving the hitter only one potential point of contact. Because the pitch is diving straight downward, if the hitter misses his one chance to hit the baseball, he’s missed his chance to hit the ball, period.

Many pitchers make the mistake of tilting their head during the delivery phase of the curveball motion. This flaw is the No. 1 reason for a “flat” curveball. Here’s what happens: Typically, when a pitcher throws the curveball, he will tilt his head to the side in which he hopes the pitch to break over the plate 60-feet, six inches away. In other words, right-handed pitchers often make the mistake of tilting their head to the left shoulder because subconsciously, that’s how they’d like to see the pitch break over the plate in front of them. It’s vice-versa for lefties.

The reason this is incorrect is that the hand inevitably follows the head. So when the head tilts to the side, the throwing hand moves the release point of the baseball from the side (like a tomahawk chop), to the top (with the palm facing down). Consequently, the curveball flattens-out because that “tomahawk chop” is what's needed to maintain proper movement and spin on the pitch. Remember to keep the head erect throughout the entire phase of the curveball motion to maximize rotation and minimize the “flattening-out” of the pitch.

Let's see your pitching grips! Take pics and post them on the discussion forums here.

Work on it!


 

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