how to throw a curveball

How to Throw a Curveball: A Simple Guide to This Filthy Pitch

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how to throw a curveball

Learning how to throw a curveball is a key milestone for young pitchers. This article is designed to guide parents and coaches through the correct methods of teaching this important skill. From curveball grip variations to how to actually throw it, it’s important to use the right technique from the start. If you don’t start with the right technique, an improperly thrown curveball can result in strain on a young arm.


Learn How To Throw A Curveball In Baseball

If you’re looking to introduce breaking pitches into your arsenal, the curveball is a must. It’s a pitch that is unlike any other in the game of baseball, thanks to the rotation going from top to bottom.

Whether you emulate Clayton Kershaw or Barry Zito and want to learn how to pitch a curveball that has a 12-to-6 break on it, or you want one with more side-sweeping action like Bert Blyleven’s roundhouse curve, there are different ways for throwing curve balls.


How To Grip A Curveball

The best curveball grip is the one that is the most comfortable for you. That’s first and foremost. One of the easiest ways to remember how to hold a curveball is to hold the ball in your hand and look for the U. That’s where you’ll want to set it up to begin.

  • Pick up the baseball and rotate it so the U shape is facing you.
  • Place your middle finger along the left seam if you’re a left-handed pitcher or the right seam if you’re a right-handed pitcher.
  • Place your thumb on the back seam.
  • Place your pointer finger right next to your middle finger.
  • As far as grip pressure, you don’t want too much pressure on the seams but you also don’t want to hold it delicately. Your fingers should be tight against the ball without feeling like you are choking it.

Curveball Variations

Baseball offers a range of curveball styles, each with its unique spin and movement. Let’s explore some of the popular ones:

curveball grips
Curve Ball Grips

Standard Curveball Grip

  • Description: The go-to grip for many pitchers starting with the curveball.
  • How-to: As we mentioned before, hold the baseball so the U shape seam faces you. Place your middle finger along the seam and your thumb on the back seam. Your pointer finger rests next to your middle finger.

12-to-6 Curveball

  • Description: This curveball drops sharply from top to bottom, much like the hands on a clock moving from 12 to 6.
  • Popularized by: Clayton Kershaw and Barry Zito

Sweeping Curveball

  • Description: Instead of a sharp drop, this curve moves more from side to side.
  • Popularized by: Bert Blyleven

Knuckle Curve

  • Description: A mix of the curveball and knuckleball, the pitcher uses their knuckle to grip the ball, resulting in unpredictable movement.
  • Notable Players: Mike Mussina
  • How-to: Grip the ball like a standard curveball, but tuck your pointer finger’s knuckle against the ball. Only the fingertip of the middle finger and the knuckle of the pointer finger should touch the ball.

A knuckle curve is a popular two-strike pitch for some pitchers, such as Mike Mussina. His knuckle curve was just a slight change to how many would say is throwing a curveball the right way. He would just take his pointer finger and bend it so just the front of the nail was touching the ball. That way, he could create a more sharp and more downward rotation on the ball. This is a very effective pitch when you throw hard and can mix it in to get a batter to chase.

Slurve

  • Description: A blend between a slider and a curveball, the slurve has a diagonal movement, making it tricky for batters to hit.
  • Tip: It’s essential to snap the wrist at the end to achieve the desired movement.

A slurve is a mix between a slider and a curveball. It is an effective middle-velocity pitch in between your change-up and your fastball. The slurve is held similarly to how a four-seam fastball is held except your thumb will be closer to your pointer finger. Your pointer and middle fingers will be touching. For a slurve, you won’t come completely over the top as you want a more 3-to-8 movement – more side-to-side movement. You’ll snap your wrist hard at the end to create that diagonal movement.


How To Pitch A Curveball

The type of curveball you throw depends on your arm action. For a top-down curveball, push your thumb up and your pointer/middle finger down to create spin upon release. For a side-swiping curve, use a three-quarters-to-sidearm delivery, adjusting the arm angle but maintaining the same ball rotation. When throwing an ‘uncle charlie’, keep your natural arm slot and speed consistent to avoid injury.

Ensure your wrist and fingers are relaxed. Proper rotation in a curveball comes from a timely wrist snap at release, with a firm but not tight grip.

Smoothness in the back of your delivery and a complete follow-through are key. Avoid throwing the curveball too hard or releasing it too early, as this can result in high pitches that are easy for hitters to target.


Spin Speed, Pitch Speed, and Break

Curveball Spin

At the heart of the curveball is the art of the spin. Unlike the four-seam fastball, which relies on a rotation started from under your fingers, the curveball calls for a topspin. This is why many pitchers adopt the over-the-top motion, especially for the 12-to-6 curve.

According to Rapsodo, the average spin rate for a curveball in the Major Leagues is about 2,430-2,530 RPMs (rotations per minute). 12-to-6 curveballs will break down as your wrist snaps to create those RPMs.

To throw a 12-to-6 curveball or to throw more of the sweeping, roundhouse curve, the curve ball grips are more or less the same. 

curveball spin

Achieving the perfect curveball requires a balance between spin speed and pitch speed. While a high spin rate can produce a sharp break, combining it with the right pitch speed ensures the ball moves as intended, keeping batters on their toes.


Curveball Pitch Locations

Effective curveball pitching hinges not just on spin and speed, but also on strategic placement. The right location can turn a curveball into a strikeout weapon or, if misplaced, a home run opportunity for the batter.

Key Curveball Locations:

  1. Down and Away: Ideal for right-handed pitchers against right-handers (and vice versa for lefties). The goal is to start the ball in the strike zone and break it away from the batter, making it hard to hit. This is especially effective with two strikes, tempting the batter into a swing.
  2. Backdoor Curve: This pitch starts outside the strike zone and breaks into it. For a right-handed pitcher, it appears to miss outside to a left-handed batter but then curves back in.
  3. In the Dirt: Aimed to bounce before the plate, this pitch’s sharp downward movement can lead batters to swing over it. It’s most effective with two strikes but requires a catcher prepared to block.
  4. Middle Zone Teaser: Appears as an easy target in the middle zone, but its late break can lead to a miss or weak contact. This pitch is a surprise element, particularly against batters expecting edge pitches.

Common Misconceptions and Mistakes

Curveballs can be tricky, especially for young pitchers. Many struggle with this pitch, and there are a few common reasons why:

  • It’s Just About the Grip: One big misconception is that a good curveball is all about the grip. While grip is essential, the arm motion, wrist snap, and follow-through are equally important.
  • More Spin Means a Better Curve: Some young pitchers think that if they spin the ball harder, it will curve more. But it’s not just about spin speed; it’s about the right kind of spin.
  • Throwing Harder Makes a Better Curve: Just like with the spin, some believe that throwing the ball harder will make it curve more. But a curveball is about deception and movement, not speed.
  • It’s the Same as a Fastball: Some pitchers try to throw a curveball with the same motion as a fastball. This can lead to poor form and less effective pitches.
  • Starting Too Early: As we discussed earlier, starting to throw curveballs too early, before the muscles are developed, can lead to mistakes and potential injuries.

How Old Should You Be to Throw a Curveball

There’s a big debate in the baseball world about when young players should start throwing curveballs. Why? Because arm injuries are a big concern. Half of the injuries in the Major Leagues are arm-related. And many players are getting surgeries even before they become big stars.

There have been studies on the right age for throwing curve balls and, while there isn’t a consensus on the right age, most agree it shouldn’t be done before the age of 11. The most important factor is physical maturation and the development of muscles.

Curveball Safety Concerns

While the primary cause of arm injuries in youth baseball players is overuse, there has been a sentiment within the baseball community advocating for a ban on curveballs.

Some within the baseball community have advocated for a ban on curveballs. However, the study conclusions do not clearly support such a ban.

Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer for Little League Baseball and Softball

This statement, as highlighted in the Little League article, emphasizes that the decision to ban curveballs based on injury concerns might not be straightforward.

Understanding the Potential Risks

The primary risk of pitching, especially in youth baseball, is overuse. The same study from the University of North Carolina found that overuse was the leading cause of arm injuries, not the type of pitch. This finding shows the importance of managing pitch counts and ensuring that young pitchers get enough rest between games.

As with any sport, ensuring the safety of young athletes should always be the top priority, and this can be achieved through education, proper training, and following to recommended guidelines.

Also, be sure to follow MLB Pitch Smart Chart to make sure you are adhering to the Little League pitch count chart. If young pitchers are throwing curveballs and throwing too much in general, they are going to be prime candidates for arm injuries.


Final Thoughts On How To Throw A Curveball

If you’re wondering about how to throw a curveball, there are multiple ways to bend your breaking ball to your liking. It starts with the curve grip and delivery that feels most comfortable to you. If an over-the-top curveball makes sense for your motion, that is your best bet. If you tend to drop down more in your delivery, a sweeping curveball should do the trick.

The grip for the different types of curveballs doesn’t really change much. The only difference is going to be your wrist angle at the release point and how your fingers are. Regardless of how you throw it, a curveball can be a devastating pitch for a hitter to face.


Frequently Asked Questions

Should 11-year-olds throw curveballs?

Most experts advise waiting until at least age 11 to introduce curveballs. It’s essential to ensure the child’s muscles are developed enough to handle the pitch safely.

Do you flick your wrist for a curveball?

Yes, a wrist snap or “flick” is crucial for generating the spin needed for a curveball. This action helps the ball break as it approaches the batter.

Can curveballs harm kids’ arms?

If thrown incorrectly or too frequently, curveballs can strain young arms. Proper technique and not overusing the pitch are vital to prevent injuries.

What’s the safe age for curveballs?

While there’s no universally agreed age, many experts suggest waiting until a child is at least 11 before introducing curveballs, focusing on muscle development.

What’s the difference between a curveball and a slider?

A curveball has a more significant downward break, while a slider moves laterally and faster, resembling a fastball with late movement.

What are common signs of overusing the curveball?

Signs include arm fatigue, decreased pitch accuracy, elbow or shoulder pain, and reduced ball spin.

How do I prevent tipping off my curveball to batters?

Maintain consistent arm speed and motion for all pitches. Regularly check and adjust your grip and setup to avoid patterns.


Chris F.

Chris F.

Chris Forbes is the founder and editor of BaseballMode.com, a leading blog in the youth baseball space. As a lifelong baseball player, coach and fan, he decided to team up with his young son to offer advice and share their experiences with the sport they both love. Chris lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children.

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