A reader dropped me a line today asking if maybe we could add a little information to the blog for those that aren’t so tuned in to the rules and regulations of baseball. Some people, this helpful person explained, just don’t know the difference between a curveball and a slider, or a sacrifice fly and a regular old flyball, and the ability to learn these things easy would help their Notes From The Nat experience.
Today, we’ll start with something relatively easy - the Curveball.
Most pitchers throw a stock pitch called a fastball. A fastball is simply a pitch thrown straight, hard, and hopefully hard enough to sneak by the hitter for a strike. And the speed of a fastball is one of the primary gauges by which a pitcher is normally judged - that is, 85mph is pretty ordinary, 90mph is pretty decent, 95mph is nasty, 98mph is filth.
But if a pitcher only throws fastballs, they won’t be in the game for very long, so a good curveball is usually something that a pitcher will work to develop.
According to Wickipedia, "the curveball is thrown with a grip and hand motion (seen right) that induces extra rotation on the ball causing it to break, to fly in a more exaggerated curve than would be expected. The pitch is slower than a fastball, and this difference in velocity also tends to disrupt the hitter’s timing. Good curveballs often seem to drop sharply with a sharp rotation as they reach the plate, making the batter swing above it. […] The curveball rotation is produced when the pitcher snaps his wrist downward at the moment of release, causing the ball to "roll" off the pitcher’s hand. The palm of the pitcher’s hand typically faces up during the follow through after releasing a curveball."
So, if you’re watching from behind the umpire, a curveball comes in hard and fast, but then dips down as it hits the strikezone, and on occasion it will also move away from a right-handed hitter (if thrown by a right-handed pitcher). What you see is a relatively straight ball, perhaps with a little arc, and then a big dip at the finish which is intended to fool the hitter.In a perfect world, the ball will drop directly downwards, like from 12 to 6 on a clockface, and, ideally, a curveball will have the most break (downward movement) when it reaches the plate, so the the hitter doesn’t have time to adjust.
If a curveball doesn’t break before it gets to the batter, that’s called a "hanging curve", and it will usually end up leaving the yard pretty quickly.If a batter suspects a curveball is on the way, he might try to move forward a little to try to catch the ball before it breaks downwards, or he’ll adjust his swing to aim for just below the expected flight of the ball.
If a pitcher usually throws 90mph on his fastball, his curve could come in anywhere from 88mph to 80mph, which gives hitters yet another reason to fret. Jose Corchado, for example, throws a fastball that hits as much as 93mph, but his curve comes in at about 84mph. His change-up is slower still, coming over at between 76 and 80mph.A right-handed pitcher throwing a curveball gives a right-handed batter the heebies, because the ball will move away from the hitter. Because most batters like their pitches thrown down and inside, if a team has three right handed hitters coming up in the 8th, the opposing manager might look towards using a right-handed set-up man with a good curve, so those righty hitters will have a harder time getting clean hits away.
So there it is - the curveball explained.