In a tip of the hat to this year’s Cy Young winners, I thought it would be fun to look at some things we can learn from how each of these pitchers throw their curveball…
NL winner Clayton Kershaw is widely considered to have the nastiest curveball in the game (hard to argue against that). On the other hand, AL winner Max Scherzer is known more for his blazing fastball (along with a great changeup and slider), but credits much of his recent success to having added a curveball to his arsenal… mainly as something that gives him another weapon for keeping lefties off balance.
High Arm Slot or Low Arm Slot – Which is Best?
Rather than going into a lot of detail, examining all the statistics, my goal here is just to take a look at some of the similarities and key differences between how these two pitchers throw their curveballs. And when you look at them, the first thing that jumps out at you is the big difference in their arm slots.
Kershaw is much more that over-the-top, high arm slot guy that most people associate with throwing a nasty 12-6 curveball. Scherzer, on the other hand, has a very low 3/4 arm slot. And this is probably a big reason he’s been more of a fastball, slider, changeup guy for most his career. But what you see with pitchers like him is that, while you probably won’t get true 12-6 break, you can still throw a good curveball without a high arm slot (see Doug Fister).
One mistake a lot of young pitchers make is thinking they need to throw over the top in order to throw a good curveball. And this can lead to all sorts of issues…
Let’s say your natural fastball arm slot is a 3/4 or low 3/4 arm slot. And this is the way your body is used to pitching – it’s been programmed to move, balance and stabilize through your pitching delivery with the exact demands placed on it by that arm slot… What do you think happens if you then change your slot to get on top of your curveball?
You end up with a loss of balance in your delivery, instability and timing issues.
Not to mention that hitters can pick up on it because the pitch is coming out of a completely different window than your fastball. The thing to remember when it comes to throwing a good curveball is that it’s all about hand position and wrist position. That and getting over the ball with a strong middle finger will get you that good downward break on the ball.
Bottom line: There’s no one right arm slot that’s best for every pitcher. Go with what comes naturally and works best for YOU!
Okay, enough talk… Let’s take a look at those curveballs!
Clayton Kershaw’s High Arm Slot Curveball
Not much to say about this one – the hitter’s reaction says it all…
One of the things that makes Kershaw’s curve so effective, again, is that he throws it from the same slot as his fastball. He’s not trying to manipulate the ball by doing something totally different with his hand and arm action. He gets on the side of the ball and finishes it off by getting over it with a strong middle finger.
One special note: Despite how devastating his curveball is (hitters have batted less than .100 against his curve it the last 2 seasons), Kershaw only throws it 12.5% of the time. It’s a put-away pitch, something he uses to finish guys off and get out of jams. And having that good curveball in his back pocket makes his fastball that much more effective – hitters have to respect it.
Rule #1 for throwing a good curveball: Always develop a good fastball!
Max Scherzer’s Low Arm Slot Curveball
With the curveball shown from behind the mound, notice how Scherzer was able to get that good downward action on the ball. The view seen on the next pitch, from behind the plate, isn’t really his best curveball (he’s actually a little late getting on the side of the ball), but you can see how he manages to get over the ball with his middle finger to get enough forward rotation and downward break.
Bottom line: it’s not as nasty as Kershaw’s 12-6, but having a good curveball has helped Scherzer go from being a very good pitcher to being one of the best in game. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did this summer with MLB Network:
Kenny: If you could pinpoint one thing that made you go from above-average to great, what would it be?
Scherzer: It’s for me to be relying on the curveball this year. Left-handed hitters have always had a lot of success off me in the past, and it’s because I’ve always been fastball/change-up to ’em, which allows them to sit on just two pitches. Something I tinkered with last year, of developing a curveball to disrupt the timing, I’ve gotten better at this year, so that I can be more consistent with it. And I really feel like I have a good three-pitch mix, to face left-handed hitters, and I feel like that’s why I’m having so much more success.
Note: avoiding the problem of being “late” with the curveball is one benefit of learning the right way to throw it early on – the older you get, the tougher it is to get used to throwing it with good hand and wrist position.
For more advanced Curveball Training you’ll find everything you need inside the Curveball Mastery SystemShare