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Conquering the Curveball
Major League hitters can hit a fastball, but only the best have a solid plan to
hit the curveball. No one can hit the great curveball - the curveball low and
away, the hall of fame pitcher’s pitch. Even the best hitters don’t swing at
that pitch until they get two strikes. So why then would anyone provide
instruction on how to hit a pitch that no one can hit? Because even the best
pitchers cannot consistently throw their off-speed pitch in a great location for
a strike. Therefore, you don’t have to hit the un-hittable curveball. Your job
is to be prepared and to be in a good position to hit the pitcher’s mistakes and
take advantage of his weaknesses.
With all of that in mind
it may surprise you to find out that the easiest pitch to hit in baseball is a
hanging curveball, or an off-speed pitch up in the strike zone. This is true
however only if you are in the right position to hit it. Thus the secrets to
conquering the curveball are:
& studying the pitcher’s habits
the proper keys to hitting the off-speed pitch
It is that simple. You
will never be able to hit the un-hittable curveball, but don’t worry, no one
can. You will however be able to hit the hittable curveball consistently if you
do your homework and practice your techniques. A word of caution - if you find
yourself out front, off balance, and not recognizing the pitch, you will
consistently have problems with the breaking ball. Without a solid foundation,
you will not have success with this pitch or any other pitch for that matter.
From the viewpoint of either a parent or a coach, there are two key points you
want to look for as you view your hitter:
your player pushes forward, or is slightly out front, it is important that his
front knee does not go over his front foot. If he is in this position, he is
too far forward to hit the breaking ball. He’s lunged forward and now he’s in a
poor position to hit that pitch.
Check to see if the hitter is consistently swinging at breaking balls out of the
strike zone. Many hitters swing at pitches out of the strike zone because they
have committed their weight transfer too soon. Once again, this is the reason
pitchers throw off-speed pitches to begin with - their goal is to disrupt the
balance of the hitter.
The first key to mastering
the curveball is for you to learn how to prepare for it. You need to have a
definite battle plan, your personal curveball strategy. You need to know:
Who is pitching
What type of pitches he
What command he has over
What command he has
THAT DAY over his pitches
This preparation should
start before the game even begins, depending on your situation. If you have
scouting reports it is an obvious advantage. However scouting reports are not
always correct. You need to see what the pitcher has that day. When you go to
stretch before the game begins, position yourself in a place to where you can
see the opposing pitcher warming up in the bullpen. At this point you should
Which of his pitches you
would most like to hit
Which of his pitches you
want to lay off
Which angle his release
point is coming from
What are his best
Which pitches he can and
What is your plan - are
you going to hit the ball to right centerfield or left centerfield?
You should remind
Never swing at a pitch
you haven’t seen
If you are hitting up in
the order- take a pitch
If you are hitting down
in the order- watch what he is throwing previous hitters that might be like
Since recognizing a
curveball is so difficult to do, you must get into a routine to practice it.
My suggestions for your routine:
When your own pitchers
are throwing in the bullpen and practicing, ask if you can stand in and see
how early you can recognize the ball out of the hand.
When you are taking
batting practice, have the pitcher mix in some curveballs. It is not even
important if these pitches are strikes, what you are trying to do here is
practice recognizing pitches.
When someone else is
hitting during batting practice, stand behind the cage and work on seeing the
pitcher’s release point.
Before you hit in the on
deck circle, work on seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. If you don’t
recognize the ball until it is halfway to home plate, it is too late. It is
almost like telling the pitcher to pitch from 30ft instead of 60ft.
The Proper Keys to Hitting the
Here are the vital tools
for success against the curveball:
Early recognition. Note
that the better a pitcher’s curveball is, the tougher it is to recognize. The
harder a curveball is, the less you’ll see the trajectory of the ball pop up
out of the hand. The harder a pitcher throws a curveball, the more difficult
it is for him to control.
Get a good one to hit.
Look for the 12/6
rotation of the seams just after release.
A pitcher will slow his
arm down on a poor curveball and his delivery will change.
You must keep your hands
and body back; your weight should stay back at least 70%. If you commit your
hands early, you will have no chance to have success with this pitch. That is
why early recognition is so important.
The pitcher wants you to
swing at the curveball that starts in the zone and breaks out of the zone. It is
no secret that most hitters get themselves out on curveballs that are out of the
strike zone. Pitchers have success when the curveball breaks late, and this
pitch is a very difficult pitch to lay off, especially with two strikes. Again
that is why preparation and knowing what type of breaking ball a pitcher has is
so important. If you know you can’t hit someone’s curveball, don’t swing at it
until you get two strikes.
If you find yourself out
on your front foot, or pushing forward, don’t swing! The only time you want to
swing when your weight is forward is if you have two strikes and you are trying
to battle. The reason you don’t want to swing from this position is that when
your hands are forward, your weight is forward and this is a poor position from
which to hit.
A curveball that starts at
the knees or slightly above will generally break down and out of the strike
zone. The curveball that starts a little bit high will generally break into the
strike zone. It is critical that you don’t go up to hit the breaking
ball, but allow the breaking ball to come down to you. That is why it
is so important to know what type of break each pitch has, and what kind of
command the pitcher has of these pitches.
It is also important when
you are facing the same side pitcher that your approach is to the opposite field
gap. This will keep your front side in, which is critical to having any success
with this pitch. If the ball does hang inside, get the bat head out and pull it
- don’t try to guide the ball to the opposite field. When we talk about your
approach being to the opposite field, that doesn’t mean you are going to hit
everything to the opposite field. A hanging curveball is one of the easiest
pitches to hit. This is a pitch you can really do some damage with.
You can look for the
fastball and still hit the curveball - all good hitters are able to do this. But
it is almost impossible to look for a curveball and hit a fastball. If you are
at the level to where you can sit on a curveball, and by that I mean looking for
nothing but the curveball, remember mechanically now you can get into the
position of power a little bit later. Many hitters look for the fastball and
adjust to the off-speed pitch. Usually you get started back early and easy. If
you are sitting on a curve ball you are going to get started back a little bit
later. You want the curveball to come to you. You don’t want to go out
to get it!
It is very important that
you wait for the curveball to come down to you. The curveball that starts
up and out of the strike zone breaks down into the strike zone. You must make
sure to keep your body down. If you go up to hit the ball, and it breaks down,
you will not be a successful off-speed hitter. As a hitter you not
only want the curveball to come down to you, you also want to stay down
and wait for the ball to come to you.
Another key to hitting the
curveball is what I call hesitation. As a hitter, you should feel some
sort of hesitation after your stride foot comes down. You have to find a way to
keep your hands and the majority of your weight back. So what happens when the
pitcher throws you a curveball and it is a hittable curveball? The feeling you
should have is one of hesitation.
5 Curveball Drills
Here are 5 curveball
drills taken straight from our Conquering the Curveball DVD (the second
DVD in the Hitting for Excellence series).
1) Underhand Recognition
This drill is designed to
help differentiate between the speeds of a fastball and an off-speed pitch. I
like this drill very much because it will help you recognize where the weight of
your body needs to be. To do this drill:
• Coach tosses underhand
from behind a screen sitting about 15ft. in front of home plate.
• Coach mixes change of
speeds and locations. Changing the speeds allows the hitter to feel the
• Hitter drives the ball
right back up the middle.
2) Bounce Drill
This drill reinforces the
hesitation that needs to take place when hitting a breaking ball. For example if
you are looking fastball, and the pitcher throws a hittable breaking ball, if
you continue on as if it were a fastball, you will be way out front. That is why
it is so important to recognize early and hesitate until the ball gets to you.
To do this drill seated:
• The tosser sits behind a
screen 15ft. in front of the hitter.
• The tosser bounces the
ball 4-5ft. in front of home plate, allowing the ball to bounce into the strike
To do this drill standing:
• The tosser stands behind
a screen 25ft. in front of the hitter.
• Tosser throws the ball
overhand, bouncing the ball 3-4 ft. in front of home plate, allowing the ball to
bounce up into the strike zone.
3) Underhand Lob Drill
Since a major key to
hitting the curveball is to allowing it to come down to you, this drill is
designed to practice waiting for the ball to come down to you. To do this
• The tosser positions
himself behind a screen 10-15ft. in front of the hitter, lobbing the ball over
• The hitter must wait for
the ball to come down to him. Stay inside the ball and drive it up the middle.
4) Drop the Ball Drill
The purpose of this drill
is to teach the hitter to stay down on the ball. It also helps to develop
quickness in the hands.
To do this drill:
• The tosser stands to the
side of the hitter, far enough back so as not to be hit with the bat.
• Tosser extends his arm
high in the air, dropping the ball straight down into the contact zone.
• Hitter should make sure
he gets ready early and let the ball come down to him.
5) Back Toss Drill
It is very important when
hitting a breaking ball that you stay inside the ball. This drill will help
develop that habit as well as practicing the hesitation.
• Standing 5-6ft. behind
the hitter and to his open side (about a 45° angle) underhand toss the ball into
the contact zone.
• The hitter should then
concentrate on hitting the ball right back up the middle. This will give him the
feel of staying inside the ball.
Know Your Strike Zone
Where many hitters get
into trouble is swinging at offspeed pitches out of the strike zone. The best
hitters command the strike zone. They know what pitches they want and where they
want them. Your batting average and on base percentage will jump dramatically if
you command the strike zone. This is what I call being selectively aggressive.
The best pitchers in
baseball can not throw their offspeed pitch in a great location for a strike
consistently. So don’t be intimidated. Even if the pitcher has a great
curveball, it may not be good that day and it won’t be un-hittable every time.
There is one important question to ask: Is anyone’s curveball consistent outing
after outing? The answer is definitely NO.
Your goal as a hitter
is to have a good approach on the hittable curveball. This is just one of the
pieces of the puzzle to becoming a master hitter. Success doesn’t come overnight
and only the most dedicated players will achieve their goals. It is my hope in
putting this article together that you will have the same solid information at
your disposal that the best hitters in the world have. 95% of players don’t have
a plan when they see a curveball - aren’t you glad you do?
- Dave Hudgens
has been involved with the best of baseball for
over 30 years. He
is currently the Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the
Cleveland Indians. Prior to that he was
hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics' organization.