Kids and curve balls


#1

At what age do you suggest kids are old enough (safe) to throw curve balls or sliders?


#2

I think you’ll find that many people take the easy way out on this question…I’ve heard everything from “not until 14 yo” to “not until 17 yo!”.

Unfortunately, there is no research that supports these “one-size-fits-all” answers and, in fact, there is some very credible research from the ASMI (American Sports Medicine Institute) to suggest that breaking pitches are less stressful on the shoulder and elbow than fastballs.

In fact, the ASMI’s research tends to correlate high FB velocities with youth pitcher injury, due to persistent patterns of overuse that young guys experience if they can throw harder than most kids at their age level.

Quantitative measurements of the stress on pitchers’ elbows during actual deliveries show that breaking pitches more closely resemble change-ups, while FBs clearly result in higher levels of potentially harmful forces.

That being said, breaking balls do need to be taught correctly, at whatever age kids learn how to throw them. If you have no idea how to throw (or teach) a breaking pitch correctly, it is better not to throw (or teach) an incorrect breaking pitch.

The reason is, the forearm/wrist/hand of the pitcher must pronate after release of every pitch…high speed video analysis shows this very clearly: It is not something a pitcher needs to think about, it is an anatomical fact of life. However, breaking pitches are released with the forearm/wrist/hand preset in a supinated orientation, then pronation occurs immediately after release.

It is amazing how many misinformed pitchers/coaches/dads think that you need to “turn the doorknob” or “twist the wrist” to get extra movement on a breaking pitch; however, that misunderstanding can lead to serious problems.

Think about it: If you actively “twist the wrist” at the release point, in effect you are actively pushing the forearm/wrist/hand further into supination at just the moment that all of those moving parts must reverse direction (at high speed) and go into pronation. (Think of shifting your car from 1st gear into reverse while moving.)

Breaking pitches are correctly thrown with the forearm/wrist/hand in a preset “karate chop” configuration. Then, the baseball is released with a firm-wristed “karate chop” directly at the target. Whether you get a curveball or a slider depends on the degree of supination in the “karate chop”…curveballs roll forward with topspin off the top edge of the index finger and sliders get a more “football spiral” type of side-spin because the degree of supination at release is less.

My son started throwing a slider at about 10 yo…I didn’t know enough at the time to teach him this, but the coach who did teach him knew his stuff and he also made sure that I understood these concepts going forward.

The kid is starting his first season of HS ball now and he has never experienced pitching-related arm pain, or even soreness from pitching, in the past 5 years.


#3

A most excellent response from laflippin. The only thing I’d add is that in addition to throwing curves with proper technique, it is still important to limit the number of curves thrown. A recommended limit is no more than 20-25% of one’s pitch total should be breaking pitches.


#4

good responses. think of throwing a curve as throwing the top of the baseball.


#5

Reading the studies would leave one to believe it should read “A recommended limit is no more than 20-25% of one’s pitch total should be fastballs”.

That’s the way it seems to me at least.


#6

re: "Reading the studies would leave one to believe it should read “A recommended limit is no more than 20-25% of one’s pitch total should be fastballs”.

—I know what you mean, I’ve had similar kinds of thoughts when considering only the results of biomechanics research. But effective pitching requires more than biomech considerations alone–it also requires strategy.

I agree with Roger’s practical guideline…the FB is almost every pitcher’s “command pitch”, the pitch he can most reliably throw for strikes when needed. Most pitchers need to use their FB from 60% to 70% of the time to be successful.

Curveballs, even when thrown with correct mechanics, are not as easy to command for strikes and they are quite a bit slower than FBs. When hitters know they can sit on a curveball, that’s not any better (for the pitcher) than when the hitter knows he can sit on the FB.

From a practical point of view, breaking pitches and change-ups are both set up for success with a command fastball.


#7

Yeah, I think they ‘baby’ the curveball thing to much. Its just a matter of technique, as young kids they may throw it wrong and as a kid being persistent may often throw too many incorrectly. If they were thrown with good mechanics I believe they would be fine.


#8

Ok, I’ll take the other side. Over the years I have been convinced that allowing kids 13u to throw curve balls isn’t a good thing. Based on medical professionals that I have consulted with ( significantly Timothy E. Kremchek, M.D. Cincinnati Reds Medical Director and Chief Orthopaedic Physician ). curveballs do expose youngsters to elbow and shoulder issues ( remember tho, age can’t be the single rule…I’ve seen several 13 yr olds with a better beard than I can grow! ).

I always go back to the question … why? Does allowing a 12 yr old to throw a curve enhance his ability as a pitcher when he’s 17? Of course not. My personal experience with Jr. was to introduce the mechanics and concept of rotation when he was young, even flipping a few from short just to teach proper technique. But he was never allowed to throw a curve to a catcher until he was 14 … and all it did was help him to develope his fb and master the straight change.

My point really is, if at a minimum its POSSIBLE that it can put additional trauma on youth pitchers, why allow it ?


#9

if thrown correctly its just throwing the top of the baseball. nothing there to hurt the arm. but i think young kids should learn how to pitch by hitting spots with fastball and change.


#10

[quote=“terprhp”]

I always go back to the question … why?

My point really is, if at a minimum its POSSIBLE that it can put additional trauma on youth pitchers, why allow it ?[/quote]

Well these two studies have shown the fastball to be harder on the arm, so why allow it? Using your logic in the last paragraph, and the results form the studies, youths just should not pitch, period. Pitching machines till 14-15 seems reasonable.

These studies show to many pitches and hard thrown fastballs lead to injuries. The curve helps the pitcher strike out batters with less pitches thrown, less fastballs thrown.

It amazing how long held beliefs, no matter how baseless they may be, are so hard for some to let go of.


#11

what has not been discussed is the curveball does not develop arm strength. you must throw the fastball and long toss at near to maximum velocity to develop arm strength. the problem with the fastball is when you keep throwing it after your body is too tired to protect itself, you damage the connective tissues and pull apart growth plates (sometimes growth plates separate no matter what you do except do not throw till they close).


#12

I agree with laflippin. There really is no hard and fast rule as to when a kid should start throwing curve balls—or any other kind of breaking pitch. I remember when I was eleven years old, playing catch with some other kids in the schoolyard during recess one day, and discovering that I had a natural sidearm delivery—and a pretty good curve ball that came attached to it! I figured, well, I have a curve ball, let me see what I can do with it, and so I worked on it. I didn’t have a fast ball to speak of, and I knew I was never going to be a Bob Feller or a Vic Raschi or any other fireballer, so I went to the breaking stuff right away.
From the beginning I used the karate-chop wrist action in throwing the curve, and I never had any problems. I also acquired a knuckle-curve and a palm ball (now there’s a nice changeup for you!), experimented with different grips and such, and then came the breakthrough—at the age of 16 I learned the slider, which is actually easier on the arm and shoulder than the curve. I also acquired—and this was sheer luck—one of the great pitching coaches of all time; he was an active major leaguer, a mainstay of the Yankees’ Big Three pitching rotation named Ed Lopat, and what I learned from him over the next three and a half years was nothing short of priceless.
That slider, and a couple of interesting variations of same, became my strikeout pitch. Now, I am in agreement with the general feeling that a kid should wait until at least 16 before going after that particular pitch because certain growth processes are more or less complete at that time, but there is no harm in learning other breaking pitches earlier on if one learns to throw them correctly. :slight_smile: 8)


#13

This thread makes me think too much. :slight_smile: I’m curious about the study showing kids who throw harder tend to get more arm injuries. Is it just pitching too many innings or something else? Since my son throws well into the 60’s at age 10, I’ve monitored his innings to make sure his muscles heal sufficiently. I figure if pros need four or five days rest between starts, my son needs at least that amount of time. Then there’s the part about physical maturity. Even at 5’-4" and 130 lbs, his body is still growing and developing, and I’m concerned about the effect of curve balls being thrown during this growing stage of life. I’ve read the studies stating that if properly thrown, there as safe as a fastball. It seems risky to me. If three speeds on his fastball gets out, then it seems logical to wait until he’s in HS. Of course, if throwing heat is more dangerous than a curve ball, then it’s time to rethink everything.

Thanks for making me think. Snow is melting and spring is in the air.


#14

Both. As flippin mentioned, the kids tht throw harder actually exert grreater forces on their bodies - including their developing skeletal systems with their open growth plates. But, as laflippin also mentioned, the kids that throw harder do tend to get used (and overused) more.

60’s at age 10 is fast. You should also make sure his mechanics are in order. I know you post and get advice here but maybe a good instructor might be appropriate as well.

They’re safe if thrown properly and the number thrown is limited. The risk lies in being able to verify whether your son is throwing the curve properly. That really takes high speed video as it is tough to see with the naked eye.

I would not drop the fastball for the curve yet. While the sports medicine folks are acknowledging the forces are greater with the fastball, I don’t hear any of those folks recommending that pitchers drop the fastball.

At the younger levels, some kids can get by just throwing heat. But those kids are sometimes late in developing a good offspeed pitch. If your son’s “three speeds of fastball” really includes a change-up, then you’re good. Otherwise, don’t delay in working on a change-up. And “small hands” is no excuse - change the grip even if just slightly and add a slight amount of pronation.


#15

[quote=“Roger”]
60’s at age 10 is fast. You should also make sure his mechanics are in order. I know you post and get advice here but maybe a good instructor might be appropriate as well.[quote]

Thanks Roger. I still struggle with what to do. We were doing long toss yesterday, and he easily and accurately throws the ball from the outfield fence to home plate on the fly, about 200’. Many of the kids in LL won’t play catch with him since he throws too hard. He throws the ball faster and farther and just as accurate as I do!

We do have a pitching coach lined up for this season. One of my son’s teacher is a pitching coach who formally coached with Ron Darling Sr. He has agreed to be his instructor and work with his mechanics.

I’m very concerned about overuse. In the past I’ve limited his innings and made sure there’s plenty of rest between outings. Also, he plays 1st base when not pitching, so this limits arm use as well. This year, by his choice, he’s playing LL only. He has practiced with an excellent 10U TT who has an incredible coach, but he stands out playing with smaller kids and feels like the odd kid out. He’s starting to go through adolescents, developing muscles, chest, etc. We were playing catch a few days back and he’s wearing my jeans and my shirt, and they fit him! He feels weird playing ball with kids who are 50 to 60 pounds lighter and who pull away when he throws the ball hard. He doesn’t want to hear “Don’t throw the ball so hard” from his team mates or from his coaches. He feels more comfortable playing with older kids that are more his size and closer to his abilities. He wants to wait until next year when he can play with the JH team.

This site is helpful. I struggle with knowing what to do. Fortunately, we live next to a baseball field, so we can play catch at any time and during the season practice pitching in the backyard.

Thanks Roger for your input. Some day, probably this summer, I’ll post a video for your input.

“Small hands” and small feet are not a problem for his age. He practices palming a basketball and he wears size 10 shoes. He keeps a hand grip with him during school to ward off nervousness and boredom, and it helps him stay focused. I read somewhere about the importance of developing a strong grip and pitching; plus, he thinks it’s cool to palm a basketball.

In one of the threads I believe someone mentioned about holding off on developing the curve until later so it doesn’t hinder the development of the fastball. In Dec., despite not throwing for two months, his fastballs were clocked at 47, 54 and 62. His upper limit this spring is well above what he did in December.


#16

shoshonte,

One thing you could do would be to go to the NPA website (
http://www.nationalpitching.net
) and take their online course. I haven’t taken it because I go through the Coach’s Certification program. But I’ve heard good things about it and it costs only $25. You could also pick up one or more of their books and/or videos.

These resources will help you learn what things to look at and work on with your son.


#17

[quote=“Roger”]shoshonte,

One thing you could do would be to go to the NPA website (
http://www.nationalpitching.net
) and take their online course. I haven’t taken it because I go through the Coach’s Certification program. But I’ve heard good things about it and it costs only $25. You could also pick up one or more of their books and/or videos.

These resources will help you learn what things to look at and work on with your son.[/quote]

Definitely will check out these sources. There seems to be plenty of help out there, but I need to stay informed to assure the “help” is appropriate. LL practice started this week. He’s one of four 10 year-olds in the Majors (the League prefers 10 YO to be in the Minors for skill development), and pretty much established himself as the “ace” on the 1st day of practice. (I was told he was also the 1st pick of the draft.) It’ll be interesting how the returning 12 YO accept him.