A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma (That Drops off the Table)

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I was talking to a high school coach recently who had this to say.

“Seems like for a lot of people, the curveball is just this big mystery.”

And based on the emails I get, I had to agree with him. So let’s mix it up today and do a little curveball Q&A.

First question…

Q: At what age should a pitcher start throwing curveballs? And what about using it in games vs. just playing around with it at home?

Me: This is always a tough one because there’s really no one right answer. I know that sounds like a copout, but it be the truth.

It all depends on the pitcher and where he’s at in his development. Does he have a solid delivery, does he already have a good fastball… If he’s got those two things, I’m okay showing him the right way to throw a curveball.

Now that might mean waiting until he’s 15 or 16, or he might be ready at 11 or 12… There are stories Barry Zito started working on his when he was seven – now I don’t recommend doing that, but it’s just food for thought.

Bottom line…

Most kids are gonna mess around with it on their own anyway, so I’m okay showing them the right way so they don’t develop bad habits (they die hard).

That said, Rule #1 is ALWAYS develop your fastball first and foremost.

As far as the second part of that question. The curveball is a great pitch – and one of the best things about it that once the hitter has it in the back of his mind, you don’t NEED to throw it that much in the game. Clayton Kershaw only throws his about 13% of the time.

Next…

Q: Does throwing curveballs increase the risk of injury?

Me: There’s definitely a lot of fear associated with kid throwing curveballs. And I get that. As a coach or parent, the last thing you want is do something get your pitcher hurt.

But news flash – PITCHING is bad for your arm.

Throwing itself is actually a pretty natural movement… throwing at MAX-effort again and again? Not so much. It’s a violent act and it’s always going to put stress on your throwing arm.

What’s needed is less pitching in games at a young age.

Less pitching with fatigue.

More emphasis on arm care and preparing the pitcher to handle the unavoidable stress that comes with the territory if you want to pursue the joy of achieving greatness on the mound.

Actually, in studies, the fastball has been shown to put the most stress on your elbow, and multiple studies have shown no direct link between curveballs and greater injury risk…

Now I’m NOT saying throwing curveball is 100% safe. It’s not. And neither is throwing any other pitch.

And the guys who would tell you all you have to do is develop “safe” pitching mechanics and you’ll never get hurt are full of it. My 2 cents…

Next question.

Q: Should you chop down to throw a good curveball?

Me: Short answer, NO. There is something to the idea of having that feel of getting down over the top of the ball. But in my experience when guys think about “chopping down” it can lead to one of two problems.

They drop their elbow…

Or they lock out the elbow, potentially slamming bone on bone.

The way I like to teach guys, you can still throw this pitch with good arm speed and hand speed (key tip there), creating the right rotation and bite without ever resorting to “chopping down.”

Q: I have a lower arm-slot, like low 3/4. I’ve been told I should learn a slider instead of a curve because I won’t be able to get on top of it and I’ll just end up with a loopy curve that doesn’t drop. Any suggestions?

Me: I get this one a LOT. And there’s no doubt if you have a naturally higher arm slot, a big downward breaking curveball is going to come easier to you. But unless you’re a true sidearmer, don’t buy into to the idea that this pitch is out of your reach.

One of the big advantages to a curveball is that it’s a lot slower than a slider. It keeps the hitter off-balance… It’s why Madison Bumgarner mixed in a sub-70 MPH breaking ball during the World Series (and call it what you want, a sub 70 MPH CB when your FB is 94 is a curveball).

Or look at Max Scherzer. He added a curveball to his repertoire because he needed something to keep lefties guessing… worked for him, despite what could only be described as a low 3/4 arm slot.

Bottom line, you don’t need to have a high arm slot to throw a good curveball. Can it make it easier? Sure.

Necessary. No sir.

Okay, that’s enough Curveball Q&A for today.

Anything I missed?

Until next time…

Committed to Your Pitching Success,

Coach Phil

PS – In addition to going over all of this in detail, including exactly how to perfect and use this pitch to attack hitters, you’ll find a 30 minute Q&A Video inside the Curveball Mastery System, where I directly answer questions from Curveball Mastery members.

Here’s that link: http://curveballmastery.com/system

 

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