If you want to learn how to throw a curveball, you're going to love this article.
In this step-by-step guide, I'll show you how to grip a curveball with pictures and descriptions from MLB pitchers.
I'll also share some of my favorite curveball tips, tricks and techniques that I picked up along the way in the Chicago Cubs organization.
What is a curveball?
A curveball is a breaking pitch that has more movement than just about any other pitch. It is thrown slower and with more overall break than a slider, and it is used to keep hitters off-balance. When executed correctly by a pitcher, a batter expecting a fastball will swing too early and over the top of the curveball.
Most professional pitchers possess either a curveball or a slider -- and some possess both breaking pitches. Having a breaking pitch, like a curveball, is an essential component to a professional starter's arsenal, because it keeps the hitter off-balance and unable to commit to gearing up exclusively for a fastball.
The curveball has been one of the most commonly used pitches throughout baseball history, and the universally accepted signal for a curveball is a catcher putting down two fingers.
The pitch is so well known in American culture that the phrase "throw a curveball" has emerged as an idiom. Like the goal of pitchers when throwing the pitch, the idiom "to throw a curve" means to trick someone with something unexpected.
Average speed of a curveball
Average pitch speed for a curveball in Major League Baseball
MLB average velocity difference from fastball: 14.2 MPH
MLB average spin rate of curveball: 2308 rpm
MLB average spin rate of knuckle curve: 2280 rpm
MLB average strike percentage: 58.1%
What does a curveball look like?
How do you throw a curveball?
BEGINNERS' CURVEBALL (YOUTH)
The beginner’s curveball is a great pitch for younger pitchers. I teach a beginner’s curveball grip to younger pitchers because I believe it’s the easiest way to correctly learn proper spin. I also think this is an effective grip for more advanced pitchers to use in a practice setting when experiencing difficulty with the breaking ball.
- Step 1: Grip a baseball leaving the index finger off the ball just as you would if you were pointing your finger at something. Your index finger will be used to aim the baseball at your target.
- Step 2: Place your middle finger along the bottom seam of the baseball.
- Step 3: Place your thumb on the back seam.
- Step 4: When this pitch is thrown, your thumb should rotate upward and your middle finger should snap downward, while your index finger points in the direction of your target. Beginners enjoy the control of the ball following the location of the pointed index finger. The beginner’s curveball helps to align hand and ball to the target.
CURVEBALL (or a 12-6 CURVEBALL)
- Step 1: Place your middle finger along the bottom seam of the baseball with your index finger next to it.
- Step 2: Place your thumb on the back seam.
- Step 3: When this pitch is thrown, your thumb should rotate upward and your middle finger should snap downward.
- Step 4: The arm action is a little abbreviated at the end. Bring your throwing hand elbow to the opposite hip which will shorten your follow through, but, will permit you to snap off the pitch.
An advanced variation of the curveball is the knuckle curveball or commonly called ‘spike curve’.
- Step 1: Tuck your finger back into the seam of the ball. Your knuckle will now point to your target, instead of your index finger (with the BEGINNERS' CURVE).
- Step 2: This grip provides maximum rotation movement, more than any breaking pitch. However, many pitchers who are learning this pitch for the first time aren’t comfortable with the ‘tuck’. It’s not natural at first to tuck your index finger into the baseball. I recommend, preferably during the off-season, to practice tucking your index finger into the baseball. Do it while you’re watching TV!
- Step 3: Progress into spinning a baseball to a partner. Note: Maintain short and well-manicured nails, especially on your index finger of the throwing hand. This is a requirement of this particular pitch. Long fingernails interfere with the grip.
Pro tip: Apply a bottled fingernail strengthening formula to the index finger which can be purchased in the nail care isle of a grocery store.
A slurve is a variation between a curveball and slider. It is generally considered less effective than either the curveball or slider because it doesn’t have the sharp bite of a good slider or the big break of a curve. Pro scouts will rate your breaking stuff higher if you throw a true curveball or a true slider.
- Step 1: Use the four-seam fastball grip; place your fingers together on the right seam on top of the ball.
- Step 2: Move your thumb up on the ball to the left, closer to your index finger.
- Step 3: Position your ring finger and your pinky finger in the usual position, on the side of the ball.
- Step 4: Throw the ball at full velocity by snapping your wrist hard as you would on a curve.
When I employed this pitch, the ball had a huge 3 - 8 movement, almost completely horizontal, but, it dropped only a tiny bit. It must have moved around 12 inches to the left.
XX keys to developing a great curveball
If a pitcher already has a good curve, I generally won't try to change it on him, but we will work on spotting the pitch with a goal of throwing a strike 70% of the time.
The curve is unique in that its rotation is from top to bottom, rather than from bottom to top like the fastball.
This action results in being released forward, in the direction of the fingers toward the batter.
On this particular pitch, the hand speed transfers leverage to the front of the ball to get that 12-6 movement that makes the curveball so effective.
The curveball is often a strikeout pitch. It dives down as it gets to home plate. The velocity is as effective as the movement to create deception and disrupt a hitter's timing because it's usually much slower than a fastball.
A curveball can be thrown with a number of different grips. Some pitchers possess curveballs with a sweeping, sideways trajectory, while other curveballs break straight downward. (These are known as 12-to-6 curveballs.)
The slider and the curveball are sometimes confused because they generally have the same purpose -- to deceive the hitter with spin and movement away from a pitcher's arm-side. (When a pitch seems to toe the line between the two, it is referred to in slang as a "slurve.")
Like a slider, a curveball is thrown by a pitcher with a wrist snap and spin. A curveball that doesn't break as much as a pitcher hopes is referred to as a "hanging curve" or a "hanger" and is much easier for the batter to hit because of its straight trajectory and sub-fastball velocity.
Arm action and release point:
- At the start of the motion, the arm action should be just the same as on the fast ball. Use a full range of motion, don't short arm the back swing or curl the wrist.
- The pitcher should attempt to get the hand up high in the cocked position with the elbow at least as high as the shoulder. This way the pitcher will be accelerating in a downward plane.
- As the shoulder starts to externally rotate, the palm of the hand will turn inward to partially face the head. The fingers will now be on top outside - not behind - the ball as on a fastball.
- During the acceleration phase, the elbow will lead slightly longer and the shoulder will internally rotate later. At this point the pitcher should think of great hand speed and wrist snap in a forward, inward plane. The hand speed must overtake the elbow to release the ball with a good overspin.
- The hand should be higher then and well outside the elbow at release point. Do not curl the wrist inside the forearm, this reduces ball velocity.
- The pitcher should bend at the waist getting the head and shoulders over the stride leg. Try to visualize reaching out in front of the body directly to the plate.
- Upon release of the ball, relax the hand, wrist and arm to allow the arm to pronate naturally. This will reduce some of the stress on the shoulder and elbow joints.
- On the curve ball, and slider, do not attempt to get full arm extension on the follow through. Short arm the follow through quickly downward and outside the lead hip.
- One of the secrets to a good and consistent to curve is not to rush the motion. Make certain the head and shoulders get over the lead leg and the hand speed overtakes the elbow and pull downward.
- Do not drive the back knee forward as hard as on the fast ball. Many pitchers like to drag the pivot foot to allow them to flex earlier at the waist.
- It is important to use good leads arm action, driving down and back giving great velocity of the hips, then shoulders. Keep the front shoulder closed as long as possible.
- During the release and follow through, many pitchers create such a violent downward force that they lose sight of the ball on the way to the plate, but pick it up again well before it reaches the hitting zone.
- As on the fastball, a pitcher may have to use a jump step to recover his balance to field his position.
DID YOU KNOW?
The curve is unusual in that it rotates from top to bottom, rather than from bottom to top like the fastball.
That's because instead of being released forward, in the direction of the fingers toward the batter, the curve is thrown with the wrist cocked so that the thumb is on top.
With the arm coming down, the ball rolls over the outside of the index finger, causing a downward spin.
The curve sinks dramatically and can be thrown for a strike or as a "miss" pitch. Depending on the arm position of the individual pitcher — straight over the top or more sidearm — the ball might also break across the plate and wind up outside.
On this pitch, having the hand speed to transfer leverage to the front of the ball is more important than arm strength.
How to be more consistent with the curveball?
The following chart identifies some of the most common problems associated with locating the curveball and provides suggestions for how to make adjustments.
|Poor break||Wrist and forearm tense, ball choked in hand, low cocked position||Firm finger pad pressure, but wrist and forearm relaxed, leave space so thumb can flick up over ball, get fingers on top of ball|
|Hanging curve ball||Low cocked position, over striding, lack of hand speed||
Get hand and elbow up like FB, drive head and shoulders down over lead leg, think fastball until arm accelerates forward
|Curve ball in dirt||Arm circle too short, upper body leads, rushes motion||Use normal arm swing, lead with front hip, stay back as on fastball|
|Loss of normal velocity||Wrist curled inward, ball gripped too loose, Ball choked in hand||Hand and wrist in a neutral position, firm finger pad pressure, leave space between thumb and 1st finger|
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- Over throwing it.
- Short arming the backswing and coming out of a low cocked position.
- Over extending the elbow by releasing the ball in a 12-6 vs a 1-7 rotation.
- Not short arming the follow through, over extending the elbow.
- Wrist hooking during the backswing or curling the wrist during acceleration
- Choking the ball too deep in hand
- Throwing across body
- Hanging the curve - pitcher throws up hill, low elbow in the cocked position, or rushes motion ahead of arm
What's the difference between the curveball and slurve?
Instead of the pitcher flicking the thumb up through the ball upon release, the thumb is pulled down through the inside of the ball.
Wrist still should flex inward as well as downward to avoid hyper-extending the elbow.
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
How do you throw a curveball? Can you share a pic of your curveball grip?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment below and let me know.