Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
Sooner or later on the Discuss Fastpitch Forum you know that the discussion on pitching will turn to which pitches to learn. We’re going to take the 12 year olds who allegedly have 10 pitches out of the discussion for the time being and instead focus on the more basic pitches.
If you listen to the old-timers (and those taught by the old-timers), a softball pitcher only needs three pitches – the rise, drop and change. They say it’s not good to throw a curve or screw because they are flat pitches and too easy to hit.
Yet increasingly in the Womens College World Series you see fewer rises and drops, and a lot more curves and screws. How can that be?
I think a part of it depends on your definition of a curve and screw, and part of it depends on what you’ve seen before. It’s possible both sides of the debate are right within their frame of reference.
A curve ball that comes in on the center of the plate and breaks to the outside corner, without much of an angle up or down, probably will be hit pretty hard. Yet a curve ball that starts on the middle of the plate, or just to the outside of middle and then breaks off the plate is a great pitch. Even if it stays flat. The idea is to get a hitter to chase a pitch that breaks out of the zone. If she does get the bat on it, the odds are it will be hit foul. More likely, though, that it will be a swing and miss if you do it right.
A screw can be even better. The low and inside pitch is a tough one to hit to begin with. If you sucker a hitter into thinking the low pitch will be more in the middle, and then it breaks into that low and in location, you’re likely looking at a strike.
The same for a good screw that works up and in. It starts out looking fat, then by the time it reaches the hitter it’s in on her hands. You might get a long foul ball out of it, but more likely you’ll see the hitter get “alligator arms” and pop it up or ground out weakly. Again, that’s on a good screw with real movement. A pitch that merely angles in from left to right (RHP) is not a good screw, and sooner or later will get crushed.
That’s with the more or less flat ones. Add in a little downward break, or a pitch that moves through the zone as it comes in, and the pitch is that much tougher to hit.
And often times, that’s what it’s all about. Back in the day, with a 40′ pitching distance and the old Louisville Burgundy bottle bat as the standard, it was a lot more common to rack up tons of Ks with a rise, drop and change. The fact that there wasn’t a lot of hitting instruction going on, and that most of what was happening was pretty poor, didn’t hurt any either.
Today, all of that has changed. Hitters are learning to lay off the rise, and their technique is better suited to hitting it when it doesn’t hit the height it’s supposed to. They’re spending more time on their craft, learning to see the ball better, predict its flight, and make adjustments. Sure, pitching is still the name of the game. But hitters have a lot more going for them than they did in the past.
That’s why pitchers need more weapons in their arsenal as well. But whether you’re talking drop, curve or screw, it can’t be a couple of inches of break. It has to be more, so the pitcher is playing “now you see it, now you don’t” with the hitter.
Figure it this way. The plate is 17 inches wide. To make a down the middle pitch break off the plate the ball has to break 8.5 inches minimum. But if you throw that pitch on the inside edge of the outer third, you need less than 6 inches of break to have it look fat and then be a ball. That should be doable for most accomplished pitchers.
The key is putting in the work so the pitches do what they’re supposed to do. That means getting them to spin in the right direction, spin rapidly enough to take advantage of the Magnus Effect, and putting them in the right location.
Everyone has the biases, mostly based on what has worked for them in the past as a player or coach. But keep an open mind. The curve and screw can be very effective. You just have to be sure they’re thrown correctly.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.