One of the most difficult pitches to hit in all of baseball is the curveball. However, there are different techniques and tips batters can use to improve their chances of hitting this somewhat elusive pitch.
Practicing different curveball drills is the best way to learn how to hit a curveball. By developing an understanding of the right way to adjust to a curveball, batters will have a much better reaction time to a curveball.
Some particular techniques will allow you to thrive against this tricky pitch. Keep reading for all the tips you’ll need to knock it out of the park.
- Hitting a Curveball
- Understanding the Different Types of Curveballs
- Recognizing a Curveball
- Practice Makes Perfect (Or At Least Better)
- Drills to Help Hit the Curveball
- Only Swing at Curveballs That Are Strikes
- Knowing Your Opponent
- What Creates Movement on a Curveball
- The Perfect Curveball Falls Low and Away in the Zone
- Final Thoughts
Hitting a Curveball
Curveballs are such a difficult pitch to hit because out of the pitcher’s hand it’s supposed to look like a fastball. If you stand over the plate expecting a fastball and suddenly the pitch breaks down and away, you may find yourself swinging at bad pitches.
Before we discuss some techniques to add to your game to improve your odds of hitting this pitch, it’s essential to know the different types of curveball you may see.
Understanding the Different Types of Curveballs
There are two main types of curveballs that you will see. The use of one curveball over another depends on the pitcher you’re facing.
As we’ll discuss later, pitchers only throw balls that they’re confident throwing, rather than throwing balls they think you can’t hit. The same is true for the type of curveball they choose to throw.
Pitchers will likely throw a 12-6 curveball or a 1-7 curveball. If we think about these numbers like a clock’s hands, the movement becomes much more apparent:
- A 12-6 curveball is a straight pitch with straight forward ball rotation that drops straight down as it reaches the plate. This gif provides a great visual representation of this type of pitch and how it can deceive batters.
- A 1-7 curveball still spins on one axis, but that axis shifts slightly so the pitch falls from the 1 hand on a clock to the 7 hand. This pitch is also known as an 11-5 curveball if the pitcher is left-handed.
Recognizing a Curveball
As we’ll discuss later, there are good and bad curveballs that batters will see. Before we talk about some of these balls, there is a technique that you can use to tell, out of a pitcher’s hand, whether the ball is a curveball.
One of the most common tropes that we hear in baseball as a hitter is to keep your eye on the ball. We hear this so often because it’s true, especially when trying to hit the pesky curve.
When a curveball is thrown, the laces on the ball rotate in a way that creates a circle or a red dot. This red dot is usually about an inch wide.
It’s important to note that this red dot is only seen when the pitcher is throwing a 1-7 curveball because of the axis that it’s thrown on. With a 12-6 curveball, the rotational axis doesn’t show the laces in this fashion. If you can recognize the red dot coming towards you, you have an instant sign that it’s a 1-7 curveball.
Good Curveball Vs. Bad Curveball
For a hitter looking to increase their batting average against a deceptive pitch like a curveball, it’s crucial to know when each version of the curveball is coming.
From a batter’s perspective, a bad curveball (or one they shouldn’t swing at) is one that starts in the strike zone. The reasoning behind this is relatively straightforward – if the ball starts in the strike zone then it will break out of the strike zone once it gets to the plate. Swinging at this type of curveball means you’ll likely be chasing the pitch.
A Hanging Curveball is the Easiest Ball to Hit
From all the discussion of the difficulty of recognizing and hitting a curveball, it may seem counterintuitive that a certain curveball is the easiest pitch to hit, but the most manageable ball for a batter to hit is known as a hanging curveball. A hanging curveball starts high and finishes inside the strike zone, with little spin and little velocity.
Technically, a hanging curveball is a mistake on the pitcher’s part. This pitch is a curveball that is supposed to drop into the zone. Unfortunately for the pitcher, it doesn’t sink as quickly as they anticipated because of the lack of rotation.
A pitcher struggling with their curveball may throw more hanging curveballs than the better curveballs that fall sharply into the strike zone.
Hanging curveballs become even more manageable because of their limited velocity. Big hitters can take advantage of this pitch, which allows them to get under the ball for a huge swing.
Practice Makes Perfect (Or At Least Better)
As boring as this might sound, the best way to get better at something is to practice. Hitting a curveball is no different. A great place to start is by having friends or teammates throw these different pitches to you.
Teammates are usually more than happy to assist in your hitting efforts since your batting directly impacts how well the team performs and because it gives them the opportunity to test out how effective their curveball is.
Have your teammates mix in different pitches alongside the curveball to simulate an actual opposing pitcher in their pitching rotation. With the curveball specifically, have them throw it at different speeds and trajectories since each pitcher will throw the curve slightly differently.
Working on hitting the curveball with teammates is a great way to get started because it helps with repetition. The more you see a specific pitch, the better you get at identifying it and taking advantage.
Continuously swinging at pitches may be enough to train yourself on hitting a curveball. Getting with your team’s hitting coach or hiring one can be such a valuable tool. Hitting coaches are trained to look at your swing and identify different weaknesses to make your hitting motion more efficient on all pitches.
You may be making a fundamental mistake when swinging at curveballs and have no way of knowing you’re doing it. A hitting coach will see these mistakes and give you tips to implement into your swing to be a much more complete batter.
To find a hitting coach, do a quick search to find out who is available in your area. If you’re having difficulty finding a coach in your area, there are also great virtual options available.
If you’re not currently on a team or just don’t have the money for the individual attention of hiring a hitting coach, filming yourself is a great secondary option. Typically, people have a more challenging time looking at their swing and identifying issues that may exist, but it is beneficial to watch yourself swinging at a curveball.
If you have a keen eye for detail, filming your swing is a great tool. Filming allows you to slow your movements down by the millisecond, identifying those very tiny flaws that make it more difficult to hit a curveball.
Pitching machines are the best way to have a specific repeatable pitch thrown. These machines allow you to adjust the rates at which a pitch is thrown, up to triple-digit speeds. They also allow you to change the type of pitch.
These machines are definitely a bit of an investment, but they provide the most specific and repeatable way to identify different pitches. You can choose a particular spot where a ball is thrown and then adjust the speed to see how it reacts based on those variations.
Then you would continue to adjust the zone’s area that the curve is coming in to train yourself on every pitch type. These machines also give the added benefit of practicing curveballs as well as pitches like the fastball and other breaking balls.
A lot of baseball facilities will have automated pitching machines, but if you’re in the market for your own pitching machine, Amazon provides a lot of great and affordable options.
Drills to Help Hit the Curveball
No matter who you work with, teammates, friends, family, or a hitting coach, there are a few tried and true drills that can help you become a more proficient curveball batter. There are drills to help specifically hit the 1-7 curveball (or 11-5), the 12-6 curveball, and a mixture of both.
Angle Hitting Drill for Hitting Curveballs
The angle drill works specifically to help train you against the 1-7 curveball or any curveball that breaks away from your body. Instead of throwing the ball from straight in front of you, your pitching partner will move over to one side (about a 45° angle) and throw balls to you about the same speed as a curveball.
Standing to the side forces the ball to fly across the plate at an angle similar to a curveball. Because of this angle, the ball will either fall towards you or away from you. Implementing this drill into your routine will familiarize you with the movement of a curveball. When striking the ball, focus on driving the ball to the middle of the field.
For a great example of the angle hitting drill, check out the video below.
Lob Drill for Hitting Curveballs
Your pitching partner will stand closer to you than a typical pitcher would (roughly30 feet away) and toss overhand lobs over the plate. Pitchers can do this at varying heights and speeds to get you used to the different locations of pitches.
This drill is specifically geared towards hitting the 12-6 curveball as the ball will drop straight down.
The lob drill will help you work on timing and staying back on these types of pitches. It also enables you to get used to the different speeds of pitches you’ll see on the field.
For a great example of the Lob Drill, check out the following video from Ripken Baseball.
Plastic Ball Drill
The final drill that can help with all types of curveballs you can potentially see is the plastic ball drill. Have your pitching buddy throw a plastic ball or a wiffle ball for batting practice instead of a real baseball. Something similar to a ball found in ball pits is the perfect ball for this drill.
These plastic balls are similar in size to an actual baseball and can have exaggerated dramatic movements with just a small amount of spin added. This drill is especially helpful if you’re working with someone who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to throw a curveball because these balls curve so easily.
Since plastic balls and wiffle balls can have such dramatic movement, it trains you to keep your eye on the ball and sync your swing. By using a real bat and swinging at plastic balls, this drill is an excellent drill for training yourself not to swing at every pitch.
As an example of this drill, check out the video below.
Only Swing at Curveballs That Are Strikes
An essential key to remember is that you only want to swing at a pitch when it’s a strike. Sounds fairly simple, but when you’re facing a curveball that starts in the strike zone and then drops out of the strike zone it can be pretty tempting to swing.
Also, take some time during batting practice to learn where your strike zone is at. The strike zone is defined as the area between the shoulders and knees when a batter has taken their stance, but you’ll also find out that not all umpires have the same strike zone. So taking some time to learn where your strike zone is at will help you recognize whether the pitch will be a strike or a ball.
Keep in mind, any ball thrown within the strike zone should be hittable for the batter without making any extra manipulations with their bodies or hands. So making sure the pitch is a strike means you’ll have a better chance of getting that base hit.
Keep a Good Batting Posture
The only time a player should swing at a pitch is when it’s in the strike zone. When a ball is within the strike zone, batters can keep their proper hitting posture and attack the ball, no matter where it ends up within that zone.
Curveballs often make batters chase after the ball because they start within the zone and then break away.
Batters who continuously keep their posture while in the batter’s box will rarely chase bad pitches. There’s no way to connect with a ball that’s out of the strike zone when the correct posture is kept.
This posture tip is easier said than done. The point of a curveball is to get the batter to chase after the ball because they think it’s staying in the zone. The more you work on staying in the correct posture, the more you’ll train yourself on when there’s a pitch you can attack and when there’s one you should avoid.
Swing Late on a Curveball
Curveballs are so tricky to hit because, as we mentioned earlier, they are supposed to mimic a fastball out of the pitcher’s hand. Since fastballs get to the glove so quickly, batters often want to swing early to get ahead of the ball to give themselves the best chance of making contact. Off-speed pitches, like a curveball, are used to take advantage of batters who swing early.
The hitting motion of batters should be one fluid movement. Typically, batters will pick up their front foot then shift their weight forward as they bring that foot back to the ground and swing through the ball. Off-speed pitches work against the fluid movement of your swing.
If you wait fractionally and don’t commit to shifting your weight through the swing, you’ll put yourself in a better hitting position to take advantage of any pitch. Waiting a bit later to start your motion will give you a small window to see if the ball is breaking out of the strike zone.
Knowing Your Opponent
It may come as a surprise to some, but pitchers, even on the major league level, aren’t necessarily proficient at throwing every type of pitch. And pitchers in lower-level leagues will have an even lower proficiency and a lower amount of pitch types to throw. Because of this lack of proficiency, you must know the pitcher that you’re facing.
Pitchers often look to use their strengths against you rather than exploiting your weakness. Pitchers won’t attempt something they aren’t comfortable with just because it’s your weakness. Instead, most pitchers will throw pitches they are comfortable with throwing.
Therefore, you’ll find a much larger degree of success if you know:
- The pitches they like throwing
- When they throw these types of pitches
- Which type of hitter they throw these pitches to
Look for Pitchers Tipping Their Pitches
Pitchers work very diligently to disguise their pitches and make each throw look the same as it leaves their hand, but from my experience, there are still quite a few pitchers out there that have a difficult time disguising which pitches they are throwing.
The more you watch a pitcher and become familiar with their throwing style, the easier you’ll be able to discern slight differences that tell which pitch is coming.
Pitchers can tip their throws based on numerous factors. These factors include:
- Different Arm Angles: A pitcher may have a slightly varying arm angle based on the pitch they throw. Some pitchers could have a certain arm angle associated with a specific pitch so keep an eye out for those slight differences.
- Different Pitching Mechanics: Inexperienced pitchers often have other mechanical-tells based on the pitches being thrown. Take a curveball for example – an inexperienced pitcher might exaggerate the ball’s topspin through their mechanics or they could take an extra second to go through their wind-up. Both of these scenarios can immediately alert the batter to what pitch is coming.
- Different Arm Speeds: Curveballs and change-ups are much slower in speed than a two-seam fastball. Pitchers will sometimes slow down their arm speed in a noticeable manner when throwing these slower pitches versus their fastball. This speed change is a massive tipoff to the batter of what’s coming.
- Hand Visibility: Pitchers hold their hands in their gloves to hide their hand from the batter. Inexperienced pitchers will carelessly show their hand, giving the batter an immediate advantage of the pitch coming.
- Grip Speed: A pitcher’s hands need to be in a specific position on the ball when throwing different pitches. While standing in their set position on the mound, a pitcher may tip their pitch by changing the time it takes to get their hands in the correct place on the ball.
- Time to Throw: If a pitcher is comfortable throwing a pitch, the time it takes them from when they and the catcher agree on the pitch to when it leaves their hand should be consistent. A pitcher may change the time to throw based on the pitch they’re throwing.
Keep an eye on anything out of the ordinary that may be a clue to the kind of throw that’s coming.
Watch the Bullpen to Study the Pitcher
If you don’t have much information on the pitcher you’re facing, a quick way to gain some knowledge is to watch them in the bullpen while they warm up.
Watching the pitcher warm-up will help you see if you can pick up on any potential ways they may be tipping their pitches. You will also see what pitches they’re comfortable throwing and where they’re locating those pitches.
If they are comfortable throwing the curveball, maybe they prefer it to start high and end in the zone, or perhaps low and away. Watching the opposing pitcher warm-up should give you a good idea of how you can exploit their pitching mechanics.
Look for What Pitches the Pitcher is Comfortable Throwing Today
Even If you’re familiar with the pitcher you’re up against, watching the bullpen is still a great way to gain new information. The location of pitchers’ throws can change daily. They may typically like to throw low in the zone, but for whatever reason, their throws are staying higher in the zone than they prefer.
Some pitchers also have off-days on their types of pitches. If their curveball is not working too well today then there’s a good chance they may not be throwing it as much during the game.
If you watch the pitcher warm-up, you’ll notice these shifts in their pitching and be able to adjust to these shifts when you face off.
What Creates Movement on a Curveball
The movement of a curveball is a dramatic shift that forces the baseball down and across. This movement is more than just the gravitational forces taking over from when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand to when it hits the back of the catcher’s glove.
This pitch is so dramatic and so difficult to hit due to the Magnus Effect.
How the Magnus Effect Impacts the Pitch
The Magnus Effect occurs when the baseball’s forward spin creates a high-pressure zone above the ball and a low-pressure zone underneath it. The high-pressure area above, coupled with the low-pressure zone below, works to push the ball downward, actually increasing the gravitational effects on the baseball.
The higher the ball’s spin rate, the more these pressure zones increase, leading to more dramatic movement.
Magnus Effect on a Fast Ball vs a Curveball
The curveball is supposed to mimic a fastball when it leaves the pitchers hand. The Magnus Effect, however, has the opposite effect on this pitch.
When a fastball leaves a pitcher’s hand, it has an exceptional amount of backspin, the opposite spin created with a curveball. This backspin on the fastball creates a low-pressure zone above the ball and a high-pressure zone below the ball.
As you might have guessed, this spin works to counteract the ball’s gravitational forces, keeping it on a straight line for as long as possible. Though these two pitches might look the same when they leave the pitcher’s hand, they differ significantly once they hit the catcher’s mitt.
Speed of the Pitch Impacts Its Movement
The speed of the pitch makes quite a difference in how much movement you’ll see from a curveball.
As we’ve discussed with the Magnus Effect, the faster you throw the ball, the sharper the ball’s movement. At the same time, the faster the ball is traveling, the less gravity will pull the ball down.
A curveball thrown more slowly is pitched to end in the strike zone. This pitch will have to start high to compensate for the slower velocity. A curveball thrown more quickly is expected to begin in the strike zone and break out of the area to deceive the batter into swinging at a bad pitch.
Of course, these tendencies aren’t always accurate. It’s just important to note that a slower pitch will have to start higher, even though the Magnus Effect won’t have as large of an impact. The opposite is then also true of a higher velocity curveball.
The Perfect Curveball Falls Low and Away in the Zone
As we’ve briefly discussed, a curveball is a pitch that can both sink and move to one side, depending on which hand you use to throw the ball. Amazingly, the curveball can be both the easiest pitch to hit, as well as the most difficult.
Sometimes referred to as a perfect pitch is a curveball that falls low and away from a batter, making it nearly impossible to hit.
A right-handed pitcher can only throw this kind of pitch to a right-handed batter because the ball naturally falls to the left, away from that batter. Left-handed pitchers can only throw this perfect pitch to left-handed hitters.
And even though it wouldn’t be referred to as the “perfect pitch”, right-handed pitchers can still throw a curve to a left-handed batter, and it can be very effective. This pitch will just end up on the inside of the batter’s body, jamming their swing but still allowing them to get some wood on the ball.
Though the curveball can be one of the most difficult pitches to hit, there are ways to make yourself much more proficient through practice.
A perfect pitch will always beat the perfect swing, so it’s important to limit your mistakes and know when it’s the correct time to swing.