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What is a Curveball?

A young baseball pitcher.
A man playing baseball.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2014
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Throughout the course of baseball history, pitchers have experimented with countless different methods for hurling the ball at a batter. During the latter part of the 19th century, the curveball was born in order to deceive batters and give an advantage to the pitcher. The curveball breaks downward as it approaches home plate, and it curves either inward toward or outward away from the batter, thus throwing the batter off balance. Originally considered rule-breaking, the curveball has become a staple in the quivers of pitchers at every level of the game.

Because of the arm motion necessary to effectively throw a curveball, it is not uncommon to see injuries result from throwing the pitch, especially to younger pitchers in their teens or younger. The rotation of a curveball must move forward rather than backward like a fastball, and must also curve slightly sideways. Therefore, the pitcher must allow his arm to move in an unnatural motion that puts stress on the shoulder and elbow. It is generally not recommended that young pitchers throw curveballs until they are in their mid to late teens and their muscles have had sufficient time to develop.

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Because of the odd rotation of the curveball, hitters tend to be fooled by the pitch and thrown off balance. A fastball moves toward the batter with strong backspin, allowing a fairly steady trajectory, but the curveball employs the use of an unsteady frontward spin that makes the ball move suddenly downward as it approaches the plate. As the bottom drops out of the pitch, the curveball also swings either hard inward toward a batter, or hard outward away from a batter. Many batters will allow the pitch to go past them without attempting to hit it, thinking it will be called a ball. But at the last second, the ball will break across the plate for a strike.

While a curveball does not move as quickly as a fastball, it can be one of the most daunting pitches to face as a batter. It is not uncommon to see a batter diving out of the way of the pitch, as the illusion fools him into believing the ball is headed right toward him. Only once they have taken themselves away from the prime location for striking the ball do batters realize the ball will break back toward the plate. This results in a strike against the batter.

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Discuss this Article

TreeMan
Post 10

@Emilski - I think you made a good point that it is hard to compare people like Paige to Koufax, because they didn't pitch in the same time period. Koufax, however, is widely regarded as having the best curveball of all time. Burt Blyleven usually comes in a close second. Satchel Paige was good, but didn't really compare to those guys. Another older guy is Camilo Pascual who usually gets an honorable mention.

As for current players, it's probably a little bit easier to narrow down the field, because you aren't digging through everyone in history. In his prime, I wouldn't argue that Barry Zito had the best curveball around, by far. The last several years, though, he's been subpar. Someone mentioned Chris Carpenter earlier. He would probably be my vote. His curveball is pretty impressive. I don't watch a lot of American League baseball, though. There might be some people there that I am missing.

Emilski
Post 9

My friend and I were having an argument the other day trying to decide who in baseball had the best curveball both past and present.

We decided a lot of the problem with picking pitchers of the past was that there isn't the same type of video that there is today, so we can't really see everyone pitch. His argument was for Sandy Koufax, but I think that Satchel Paige probably had a better curveball.

As far as current players go, I would probably go with Roy Halladay, and my friend goes with Barry Zito. I might personally be a little biased, though, because I am a Phillies fan. What does everyone else think?

Izzy78
Post 8

@kentuckycat - I think you are right in trying to teach your son how to throw a curveball, since it is an important part of any pitcher's assenal. I am sure you already know it, but it is definitely worth repeating. Once your child starts learning to throw a curveball, make sure he knows his limits. I have seen a lot of young kids get hurt because they get a little too enamored with throwing that pitch and don't stop when they should. Remember, a curveball should be an "out" pitch, not a pitch you throw regularly, especially at that age.

You have the basics of the curveball right. Grip it with two fingers across the top laces and the thumb across the bottom laces. During the throw, right as the hand passes the head, start to rotate the hand clockwise (for a right handed pitcher).

The next part is what helped me when I first learn to throw it. Right as you start the rotation, imagine that you are pulling down on a cord to raise some blinds and shoot your hand straight down and release. The ball should come out with the right spin. It will take some practice and experimentation with grips and finger pressure and such, but that is the basic technique. Good luck.

kentuckycat
Post 7

My son is a pitcher for his junior high baseball team. I think it is getting to the point where he should start learning more pitches besides just the fastball and changeup. It seems like the curveball would be the logical next step, since it carries less of a risk than something like a slider or sinker but is still an effective breaking ball.

I have looked online, but I can't find any good sources that tell about how to throw a curveball. Does anyone here have any good suggestions? I know the basics of it are that you hold the ball like a four seam fastball and then rotate the hand about 180 degrees before release, but whenever we try to do it, it never curves. The ball either flies off to the side or else doesn't even make it to the plate. I'm not sure what else to try, so any suggestions would be appreciated.

jonrss
Post 6

I think it would be cool to see a 3D movied where they have pitchers throw pitches directly at the camera. You would get to see the game as the hitter, catcher and umpire get to see it which is pretty rare especially at the major league level.

Imagine seeing a 3D curveball come rushing out of the screen. You would get a whole new appreciation for how difficult they are to hit. There is actually probably a whole market for doing sports stuff in 3D.

chivebasil
Post 5

I live in St Louis and I'm still riding high over our 2011 World Series victory. One of the biggest reasons we won is due to some of the lights out pitching Chris Carpenter gave us throughout the playoffs.

He had at least 3 stunning games and a lot of his success was because of a wicked curveball. I remember one game where there was a stat that flashed on the screen. It said something like he had thrown 35 curveballs and 43 of them had been called for strikes. Its really a wicked pitch and nobody throws it like Carp.

KoiwiGal
Post 4

I don't know much about baseball, except that there are some wonderful movies based on it. I never realized before that the curveball curves downward, rather than to the side. That makes much more sense, I suppose, since you'd probably be able to hit it just as easily if it went to the side slightly, and if it went too much, it would be out.

It seems like the curveball is always used for drama in the movies. I remember in one of the films they used a curve ball as the weakness of one of the players.

I find it interesting that they do things like figure out the routines of different pitchers to try and predict what kind of ball they will pitch.

It seems so complicated.

SZapper
Post 3

Wow! I can see why a baseball curveball used to be against the rules. It seems rather tricky and not very sporting on the part of the pitcher!

That being said, I can understand why pitchers try to throw these. They seem like they're pretty difficult to master, so I can see why the pitcher might like to show off a little.

Also, it seems like you would have a pretty good chance of getting a strike if you throw a curveball at the batter. I'm not an expert at baseball, so if I saw one of these pitches coming towards me I would probably jump out of the way too!

umbra21
Post 2

@indigomoth - It can be dangerous to practice throwing pitches at someone when you aren't very good at it. Particularly if you are strong but not very good at aiming the ball for the right place.

Even established players can sometimes hit the batter, and it's extremely painful.

I was playing with a friend once and he managed to hit me with a wiffleball and it raised a lump in my leg. It turned into a spectacular bruise and he felt awful about it.

And that was just a wiffleball, made of light plastic, not a heavy baseball.

If you need to practice your pitches, I would recommend finding a place with a net (like a soccer field) so you can do so without having to chase the ball all the time.

indigomoth
Post 1

I had an American friend who decided to teach me baseball while we were vacationing together and his favorite trick to pull was a curveball.

I think it's quite a difficult pitch to make, so he was actually quite a talented sportsman, but at the time I was just really annoyed at him!

He would wait until I was starting to feel quite proud of my new found ability as a baseball player, and then he would start pulling tricky pitches which I couldn't figure out how to hit.

He tried to show me how to throw a curveball myself, but I couldn't seem to manage it.

And it didn't seem fair to always be throwing him bad pitches while I was trying to get it right. He was very patient with me, but he deserved some decent pitches as well.

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