How to throw a curveball: Pitching tips

I'm not sure whether a young kid is more fascinated by being able to throw the fastest or throw the best curveball.

Personally, I was more intrigued by breaking pitches of all kinds. But that may be because I was short for a pitcher and simply couldn't throw as hard as some of the other guys, but I had an amazing curveball.

Tim Lincecum throws a nasty curveball.
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Famous Cureveball Pitchers
Location is the most important aspect of being a successful pitcher—Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine(notes) are proof that you don't need great movement and a blazing fastball to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Neither of them consistently threw over 90 mph and neither was known for having any great breaking pitches.

However, having great movement and velocity makes it easier to be decent. Bert Blyleven, who was recently inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, is widely considered to have had the best curveball. In the modern game, that honor might belong to Clayton Kershaw(notes), Tim Lincecum(notes) or Roy Oswalt(notes)—they are the few that still throw a true 12-6 curveball that breaks down and not so much left to right.

Most pitchers now throw a curveball that breaks diagonally down and away, more like a slider.

When to Start Learning
I probably started throwing curveballs when I was 11 and never had any arm problems. Experts are widely varied on this but 13 seems to be a good consensus of when it is appropriate to begin learning. That is when kids graduate from the 46-feet distance to 54-feet.

However, some don't recommend throwing curveballs until you reach 15 and the 60-foot pitching distance. I relied upon it heavily through my high school career. I have made many a batter look ugly swinging at pitches in the dirt. It doesn't need to be a jerky or sudden twist that puts extra stress on your arm.

How to Throw a Proper Curveball
First of all, a properly thrown curveball should not actually put more stress on your arm than a hard fastball. But throwing a baseball is already and unnatural motion that puts a lot of stress on your shoulder and elbow and learning to throw a curveball well can take a lot of time. A common myth is that to throw a curveball you need to have a big wrist snap but that is unnecessary. What you want to do is let the ball roll off your fingertips rather than twist your wrist upon release.

A good way to practice this is to throw from a short distance—maybe 25-30 feet—and see how much spin you can get on the ball just by releasing the ball differently. You will see that you can generate plenty of spin on the ball without really twisting your wrist. When you release a fastball, your fingers are normally directly behind the ball upon release. When you release a curveball, basically all you want to do is release it with your fingers on top or in front of the ball and your palm to the right (if you are right-handed).

A curveball is a fascinating pitch and it will baffle lots of hitters. But don't rely too much on it. At higher levels, players will catch on to it more and more. As a little league coach now, I tell my players it's OK to throw a curveball but I still want the majority of their pitches to be fastballs.

Save the breaking stuff for out pitches and to mix it up rather than the other way around.

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Updated Friday, Apr 22, 2011