One of the great things about a good curveball is that it’s not only an effective breaking ball, but it can also be a great change of speed. And Warren Spahn really said it best: Hitting is all about timing, and pitching is about upsetting that timing.
So with the curveball, not only are you fooling the batter with the movement on the pitch, but you’re also upsetting that timing. Whereas a slider can be a nasty pitch (another great breaking ball), it’s a lot more of a power pitch and doesn’t give you the same big speed differential you get with the curveball.
To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at Clayton Kershaw’s pitching arsenal
source: BrooksBaseball.net (fantastic resource)
What you can see pretty clearly from this scatter chart is that Clayton Kershaw has a pretty devastating pitching repertoire. He’s got a mid 90’s fastball, a changeup and slider in the mid 80’s, and then he’s got that hammer in the mid 70’s.
On top of that, he’s got 4 different pitch types that the hitter has to deal with. The fastball is hard and straight, the changeup is slower and fades to his arm side, the slider moves the other way, and the curveball has that big drop along with the sideways movement.
But going back to the curveball as a change of speed… what you’ll notice is that while his slider is a great pitch, it’s right around the same speed as his changeup. And don’t get me wrong, you can be effective with just that combination. But by adding that bigger, slower curveball to the mix, you’re giving the hitter a totally different speed and break to think about. And in his case it gives him a spectrum of pitches with more than a 20 MPH speed differential from fastest to slowest.
Factor in that he hides the ball so well, and good luck timing that.
Another thing to keep in mind, for young pitchers especially… Kershaw only throws his curveball about 13% of the time. You don’t want to fall in love with this pitch and throw it too much. But if you can develop command of your curveball it can make all of your other pitches more effective – the hitter has to respect it. And then you’ll have that nasty pitch in your back pocket that you can break out in key situations.
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