Types Of Breaking Balls

A thread about curveballs on another coard has interested me in starting a conversation about types, philosophies, and strategies of breaking balls (which includes curveballs and sliders).

As I see it, pitchers throw a number of different types of breaking balls…

  1. The High Dropper
    This is a breaking ball that looks like it’s going to miss high but then drops into the strike zone. Often moves 12-6.

  2. The Slider
    This is a breaking pitch which looks like it’s going to nick the lower outside part of the plate but that drops down and out at the last second.

  3. The “Oh Snap” Curve
    This is a ball that looks like it’s coming directly at the batter’s head but then dives into the strike zone. Often moves 1-7 or 2-8 to RH batter.

  4. The “Hit It If You Can” Curve
    This is a pitch (e.g. Sandy Koufax curve or even Eephus pitch) that is obviously a curveball but is hard to hit due to its movement. Often moves 12-6.

  5. The Split-Finger Fastball or Splitter
    This is a pitch that looks like a fastball that is going to nick the bottom of the strike zone but which dives down just before reaching the plate. Often moves 12-6.

  6. The Cut Fastball or Cutter
    This is a pitch that looks like a fastball but that moves horizontally left or right. A cutter can be thrown just outside of the strike zone and move just inside the strike zone (to induce a called strike) or can be thrown just inside the strike zone and move just outside the strike zone (to induce a broken bat).

  7. The Screwball
    This is a pitch that, when thrown by a RHP to a RHB, moves down and in (like a reverse slider) and, when thrown by a LHP to a RHB, moves down and down (like a regular slider).

There’s also the slurve. A pitch that looks like a flat curve, then sits on the outside corner of the plate.

and a knucklecurve which breaks harder than other curve balls

1st of all, the Knuckle Curve does not necessarily break harder than a regular curve, ask Burt Blyleven or Sandy Koufax. Guys like Mike Mussina use it for comfort and leverage, but there is nothing that intrinsicially makes it break harder unless you are using Burt Hootens style of knuckle curve that had different physiology.

Happy Hootens Knuckle Curve was throw off the knuckles by spinning it against his thumb. If you do not have very strong fingers, this will not work for you.

Success with the splitter requires long and strong finngers otherwise you will lose the leverage battle on the ball.Ian.

I like the oh-snap curve, that’s a fun one to throw at guys … other times I’ll aim it down the middle and it breaks low and in the dirt, but too often I think the batters see it coming because it breaks too early and they lay off.

I throw the oh-snap curve and it works pretty well for me. I also throw a high dropper but i wish i could get the drop that the guys in the magors get.

I use a curve ball that cuts across the plate but breaks within the last 4 feet, so it looks like a chage but then it hits the dirt= lots of strike outs

Well, I’m not sure there are any more types of breaking pitch so i’ll address my philosophy on breaking pitches, it kind of melds with the post I did called "What kind of monster am I?"
I think that breaking pitches are one part of the entire bag a pitcher brings to the table, it isn’t “necessary” that a pitcher has one but it does compliment the different variants of fastball.
I have been uncomfortable with the “guru’s” that get all worried when a kid brings up that he has either learned one or wants to learn one. Actually I find it as unresponsible as advocating a kid throw 7 innings worth of nothing but curves…why? Because it casts the person who taught it in a bad/negative light, the effect of this is to suppress responsible people who should be in the process of learning and “push it” over to “experts” and those who claim to be expert, or even worse to just let a kid “pick it up” from some kid who does it. As I asked earlier to you Chris, would you teach your son responsible gun safety or would you let him learn it from some “homey with a 9mm”? I’ve heard everything from “it’s child abuse”, to “kiss you future goodbye” and it’s not realistic.
I believe that the biggest reason young arms are ruined is (As put forward this year in the LLWS) over-use of the under age arm. I’d also be willing to bet flat out that if you’ve seen a kid with TJ surgery, say pre-high school it wasn’t just because he’s used a breaking ball…oh no I would bet my next pay check that 3 factors would be in play 1) The kid would be heavily involved with travel ball, pitching up and over 100 innnings per year 2) His coach would be more concerned with winning than player development 3) His parents would tend to differ to the “expert” coach.
As I’ve mentioned before in studying Greg Maddux, the breaking ball is something he uses, but he does so sparingly, with a purpose. Few pitchers have been successful without more than a fastball, but the best depend on the whole picture, use all the ingrediants wisely, prepare, condition and tenaciously compete

My philosophy of breaking ball usage.

If you throw over the top and are a strike out pitcher.

There are at least to me, certain classic suite of pitches depending on your arm slot. If you throw over the top and are overpowering, your pitch selection is four seam fastball, overhand curve, changeup (probably the old Fergie Jenkins classic style).

Why it’s powerful: Everything looks the same. Fastball, curve, change all seem to have the same spin. Blyleven was the best at this; you could not tell whether his pitch was back spinning or over spinning it was a small red blur. What happened in the last few feet was profoundly different though. The ball might rise, drop a couple of FEET, or be thrown at the drastically different speed.

There are a couple of different ideas of how to use the curveball. The classic scenario is to use it as an out pitch. Most are variants of this philosophy are up and in with the fastball followed by a curve low and away. There is also the Don Sutton school of thought of throwing the curveball to set up the fastball. Most of these philosophies are based on getting strike outs, Most of the 4 seam fast-ballers who throw from over the top with sharp dropping overhand curves are strike out pitchers. They will also tend to get a lot of pop up outs if they are good.

Three quarters Sinker/Slider Pitcher.

Why it’s powerful: Less pitches thrown in a game. Keeps the ball in play and on the ground. Every pitch has downward movement.

Suite of pitches: Sinker (sinking fastball), Slider, Change, Curve or Splitter.

There are times when a pitcher wants something other than a strike out; maybe he is looking for a groundball double play. Maybe the pitcher just does not have that overpowering velocity. This is the realm of the sinker/slider pitcher. They want the ball to be contacted, but on their terms. They want the batter to hit the ball on the top of the ball, beat it into the ground for ground outs and double plays. Sometimes batters miss it entirely, and that’s all good, but usually beaten into the ground works just fine. Most of the successful sinker/slider guys throw ¾’s in some variety. Yeah, Randy Johnson gets a lot of strikeouts, but he is physically overpowering. These guys use the sinker for 6-4-3 double plays by running the sinker, in on batters hands, or for 4-6-3 double plays by getting batters to swing at a slider away and tap it to the right side. If you are a sinker/slider guy with a good change-up, you might throw a sinker low and in, slider low and away, and a circle change down and in. The batter will turn on it very quickly, too quickly. If you have not coerced a ground ball out by now, You have the batter set up for high and tight 4 seam fastball, or a front door curve (if you are a 4 pitch pitcher) to get the strike out.

You use the slider to give variety from the down and in pounding of the strike zone with the sinker and circle change.

This is a small part of what try to teach my pitchers. Ian.

I believe the real problem with throwing curves may the amount of time it takes to throw one well. I believe that all of that practice, and not just the mechanics, may be the thing that causes problems by creating overuse injuries. I know that my 11 YO son can keep his fastball sharp just by throwing it 50 times per week (because he uses the same grip as a fielder).

I don’t think the same thing can be said for a curveball.

All of the above means that I don’t think there currently exists a “safe” curveball, since they all take significant practice to master. In my mind a safe curveball would be one that is relatively easy to throw and to keep sharp.

Chris I won’t repudiate your claim as it is your opinion and mine is mine, I note you failed to address my conjecture about the true nature and cause of arm injury in youth, I would certainly enjoy hearing yours and the takes of the other verteran posters on this, as well as anyone else that thinks it valuable to have this conversation.
I would also find it valuable to have you guys speculate on the effect or lack of effect I mentioned when the (And forgive the term but I can find none that fits better) punditry nearly universally condems kids learning those pitches.

I answered the curveball question because this is a curveball thread.

However, I mostly agree with you.

In my opinion it comes down continuous overuse. By that I mean throwing lots of innings on consecutive days.

That most often happens in tournament settings, in which pitchers pitch several days in a row (and in some cases multiple times in a day).

My theory is that that causes problems because you end up throwing with a tired arm, which means that the muscles of the arm can’t hold things together and loads end up getting transferred to the tendons, ligaments, and bones.

I am concerned that people could be focusing on the wrong things, because there isn’t great evidence out there that the mechanics of curveballs are the real problem.

If people believe that curveballs are the problem, but overuse is the real culprit, then you’ll end up not making any progress. Kids will still get injured because they are simply throwing too many pitches during the course of a week and in games that are too close together.

I feel like I’m pulling a tooth…now give me the last part I asked…

My son is smart enough to not practice throwing a curveball, and if he does try throwing one, he’s unlikely to do it enough to cause a lasting problem.

The real issue is when guys practice their curveballs with their dads.

I agree.

I agree with all 3 suppositions.

The problem is that to use the curveball even once in a game, you have to practice it a lot. I believe that the real problem is the 500 curveballs that are thrown each week in practice rather than the 10 the kid throws during the game.

Ok I jiggled you pretty hard, I hope we get more input. As to your boy, I’m sure you are right, the point that I’m so painfully working here is that we all (Those who give advice on this art), should work to keep the ones who care about the kids keenly involved with the process, i.e. I would rather have dad, or grandpa or mom or Uncle Guido working with these kids and feel that it has value. We do a disservice, in my humble opinion, by making declarations of caution and possible calamity, specifically at the younger ages.
I would recommend a crusade against the evils of travel ball but it would meet with derision and deaf ears.
One thing that I don’t hear much of is the value of “flat ground” practice in developing mechanics and techniques (As you know the stress the mound puts on an arm when torqued is considerable). This method of practice puts the very bare minimum of stress on a kids arm.
I am working this discussion into this thread because the “curve” threads get considerable attention with new readers and posters. And this is all part of learning about the responsible teaching and use of the breaking pitch.

[quote=“ian demagi”]My philosophy of breaking ball usage.

If you throw over the top and are a strike out pitcher.

Three quarters Sinker/Slider Pitcher.

This is a small part of what try to teach my pitchers. Ian.[/quote]

I found this post to have alot of valuable insight for young pitchers. My son’s own experience has been that he can be the over the top strike out pitcher and uses a big 12-6 drop as a strike out pitch. But there are occasions when he has to resort to the low strike and expansion of the strike zone down and away for more ground balls hoping all the while his infield doesn’t have an off day. This kind of search for an identity has been as much a factor in his development as anything.

Thanks for the post.

I just ran a pitching practice tonight - we did a number of drills followed by bullpen sessions and all of it was done on flat gound. Of course, it’s hard to come by fields with mounds for practices. But even if I could, I’d only have the kids practice off the mound once per week. FWIW, Tom House is a big proponent of flat ground work.

Regarding the use and teaching of the curve, I am a firm believer in teaching kids the right way to thow and use the curve because, if left to their own, most kids will learn to throw it wrong. I teach my kids the correct way to throw the curve, I teach them to limit the number they throw, and I teach them the consequences of throwing it wrong or too much.

The problem with being a sinker/slider pitcher for young pitchers is the fact that they really should not be throwing the slider at ALL.

Some more philosophies of throwing breaking balls:

I never like the high, loopy , or slop curve, that drops into the strike zone. Too much potential for that one to go 400 feet the other way. If you MUST use it, do not throw it for a strike.

There are two aiming points, One at the guys ear flap-the front door curve, and the one thrown at his belt that dives away and into the dirt.

Unless you have a very sharp and late breaking curve, I would not try to freeze the batter with a front door curveball. If you do want to do this, it is best set up with the 4 seamer up and in. The batter will want to bail out. I believe it is better to take a little speed off this curveball in order to make sure you get a good sharp break.

The hard curveball is thrown belt high over the middle of the plate, and dives into the dirt out side. Good visualization here is the key, you know where your aiming, and seeing in your minds eye, the ball breaking down into the dirt. You want the batter to think this is a 4 seam fastball mistake.

For the slider, unless you have a tremendous slider, I never liked front door sliders, I know Bob Gibson terrorized batters with this pitch, but I was not him. For the rest of us lesser mortals, low and away works. Above the knee cap outside corner with the slider works very well as both a strikeout pitch and a double play ball. The ball whipping quickly down and away makes batters barely miss, but they miss it almost every time. Even if they do hit it, it is a weak roller.

In order to do well with breaking ptiches, you must be willing to throw inside! You don’t have to be a head hunter, but you do have to move the ball around, and inside keep batters from diving out to get your breaking stuff.

Ian