Throwing a Curveball
When running instructional clinics for young players I am often
asked by coaches and parents “When should my son or daughter
start throwing a curveball?” This is a difficult question to
answer. There is no specific moment when a coach or parent will
say, “my son or daughter is ready now.” I would recommend waiting
until the player is 14 or 15 years old. If young players throw
curveballs on a consistent basis at younger ages they can cause
damage to their elbows and thus hinder the growth process. But
it’s not only the fact that they are throwing curveballs at a
young age, it’s the fact that they are throwing curveballs with
improper mechanics that causes much of the damage.
MAKE SURE THEY
ARE THROWING THE PITCH WITH PROPER MECHANICS!
The mechanics of a curveball are NOT the same as a fastball.
There are several key elements to the curveball that must be
followed in order throw the pitch properly:
GRIP: The key finger in a curveball is the middle finger. Ideally
the pitcher will find a grip where seam will provide resistance
against that middle finger during the release. That is how the
curveball gets its tight rotation.
STRIDE: If you find that one of your pitchers is having
difficulties getting on top of their curveball (pitch constantly
coming out high), get them to shorten their stride by 2-4 inches.
ELBOW: The throwing elbow must be equal to or slightly above the
throwing shoulder. As soon as the pitcher lowers the elbow below
the shoulder, they put additional stress on that arm. The angle
of the elbow joint should be no more than 90 degrees. Pitchers
who throw curveballs at angles greater than 90 degrees may put
additional stress on their throwing shoulder.
PATH: The path of the ball on a fastball is generally far from
your head. In the case of a curveball, the path will be much
closer to your head (slightly up and away from your ear).
RELEASE: Releasing a curveball is much different than releasing a
fastball. A fastball release is straight out in front of your
body. In effect, the way you release the ball is the type of
action you want the pitch to have. When releasing a curveball,
your wrist will be hooked and your hand will pull down in front
of your body. It is important that you release the ball close to
your body (Short Arm). The further you release from your body,
the less resistance your middle finger will have on the seam and
therefore your rotation will be looser. Loose rotation curveballs
tend to spin or hang.
ARM SPEED: It is extremely important that you maintain similar
arm speed with your curveball that you have with your fastball. A
hitter reads arm speed. The matter of arm speed is obviously more
important with a changeup than it is with a curveball, but it’s
important for other reasons. Another way to get a tight rotation
and hard downward movement with a curveball is to throw it with
quicker arm speed. If two pitchers have the exact same curveball
grip, mechanics, release, etc. but one throws it with quicker arm
speed, the one with quicker arm speed will throw the curveball
with more break, and thus the harder pitch to hit.
Andrew Tinnish is the Assistant of Amateur Baseball Operations
for the Toronto Blue Jays. He spent the 2002 Spring Training with
the Blue Jays in Dunedin, where he worked with the team’s minor
league coaches and instructors. Among his duties, Tinnish works
with kids at the Blue Jays’ elite baseball camps. He also pitched
professionally in 1999 for the Northern League’s Quebec
Capitales, compiling a 3-1 record in 22 games.