Difficult to throw and command, the curveball is no longer the out pitch of choice for many.
If it seems as if nobody has thrown a curveball as good as Bert Blyleven's since he retired, maybe that's because few have tried.
Mastering the curveball became a lost art, as pitchers began relying more on the slider.
"We didn't see as many pitchers come to the big leagues with a curveball," said longtime major league pitching coach Mark Wiley. "There was nobody for about 15 years. It was unbelievable."
Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Yovani Gallardo are among the modern pitchers with outstanding curveballs, but how could such a basic pitch lose its relevance for so long?
"The curveball is difficult to throw and command, so most organizations thought the fastest way to the big leagues would be with a slider," said Steve Stone, a curveball specialist in the majors from 1971 to 1981. "The slider was much easier to get over [the plate] because, for the most part, it stays on the same plane."
Curveballs break downward, from north to south, while sliders are thrown harder and break from east to west. Since there's a bigger velocity drop from a fastball, a curveball can upset a hitter's timing.
But "the curveball remains the only pitch that leaves the pitcher's hand and goes up," Stone said. "The good hitters have eyes like computers. When they see a ball go up from a pitcher's hand, it can only be one pitch."
Twins left fielder Delmon Young said, "The curveball can be tough to hit, but it also can be a gift, if it just hangs up there."
Ah yes, a hanging curve. Blyleven hung quite a few in his Hall of Fame career. Pitching for the Twins, he led the American League in home runs allowed with 50 in 1986 and 46 in 1987.
"A lot of times, curveballs are lost in the minor leagues because kids can't throw them over consistently," Blyleven said. "When I signed with the Twins, if I wouldn't have been able to throw it over consistently, I wonder if they would have said, 'Hey put that in your back pocket. You've got a good fastball. Let's throw sliders.' Nobody ever said that to me."
Good thing, or Blyleven wouldn't have 3,701 strikeouts.
Now, the "pitch du jour," as Stone calls it, is the cut fastball. Basically, this is a variation of the slider, thrown almost as hard as a fastball. Mariano Rivera has been a one-pitch pitcher, relying on his cutter for more than 580 career saves.
James Shields, Josh Tomlin and Jaime Garcia are among those who credit their success to throwing more cutters.
Hitters are trained to pick up the ball's spin, and they have a harder time recognizing cutters than sliders and curveballs. A good cutter also has late movement.
"All a pitcher needs is for the ball to move a little, so it misses the good part of the bat," Young said. "When you commit, you make contact, but you get it off the end of the bat, or it just gets in on you."
So why doesn't every pitcher throw the cutter? Some try and start having trouble with their other pitches, losing velocity on their fastball and command of their off-speed stuff. Noted cases include Royals closer Joakim Soria and Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek.
Also, some believe throwing too many cut fastballs can be harmful to the arm. That's one reason the split-fingered fastball became less prevalent after it was the pitch du jour in the 1980s.
"If you throw the curveball properly, it doesn't affect your elbow," Wiley said.
Few have thrown it more properly than Blyleven. That's why he reached the Hall of Fame.
|NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda||0||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison||2|
|Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer||3||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale||6|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront||5||FINAL|
|St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson||1|
|Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon||2||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley||3|
|Minnesota||0||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Philadelphia||3||Top 6th Inning|
|Miami||4||Top 6th Inning|
|Boston||0||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Cleveland||1||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Detroit||5||Top 5th Inning|
|Texas||0||Bottom 6th Inning|
|Colorado||1||Bottom 2nd Inning|
|Chicago Cubs||1||Top 2nd Inning|
|Los Angeles - Z. Greinke||7:40 PM|
|San Diego - I. Kennedy|
|Milwaukee - M. Fiers||8:05 PM|
|San Francisco - J. Peavy|
|Oakland - J. Samardzija||8:05 PM|
|LA Angels - C. Rasmus|
|Washington - S. Strasburg||8:10 PM|
|Seattle - R. Elias|
|Green Bay||9/4/14 7:30 PM|
|(6) Jacksonville St||7||FINAL|
|(8) Michigan State||45|
|(5) Ohio State||34||FINAL|
|(17) Notre Dame||48|
|(10) South Dakota St||18||FINAL|
|Arkansas||21||4th Qtr 3:15|
|(16) Clemson||21||4th Qtr 12:05|
|Liberty||22||3rd Qtr 5:42|
|(23) North Carolina||35|
|Ohio U||14||4th Qtr 10:07|
|Louisiana Tech||0||2nd Qtr 0:37|
|Stephen F Austin||10||2nd Qtr 0:53|
|(20) Kansas State||28|
|Fresno State||0||2nd Qtr 8:20|
|Southern Miss||0||2nd Qtr 11:50|
|Texas-El Paso||14||1st Qtr 4:21|
|North Texas||0||1st Qtr 3:35|
|(1) Florida State||10||1st Qtr 5:35|
|(14) Wisconsin||8:00 PM|
|South Dakota||9:30 PM|
|(25) Washington||9:30 PM|
|Utah State||8/31/14 6:00 PM|
|SMU||8/31/14 6:30 PM|
|Miami-Florida||9/1/14 7:00 PM|
|Arizona||9/4/14 7:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||9/5/14 6:00 PM|
|Washington St||9/5/14 9:30 PM|
|SMU||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Fla Atlantic||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Buffalo||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|(24) Missouri||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Arkansas State||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|(8) McNeese State||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Central Mich||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Akron||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Western Ill||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|(20) Kansas State||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|(4) Oklahoma||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|Western Ky||9/6/14 11:00 AM|
|SC State||9/6/14 11:30 AM|
|Navy||9/6/14 12:00 PM|
|UAB||9/6/14 1:00 PM|
|South Alabama||9/6/14 1:00 PM|
|New Mexico St||9/6/14 1:00 PM|
|Colorado||9/6/14 2:00 PM|
|Fresno State||9/6/14 2:00 PM|
|(1) Eastern Wash||9/6/14 2:00 PM|
|(15) USC||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Ohio U||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Northern Ill||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Missouri State||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Ball State||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Maryland||9/6/14 2:30 PM|
|Eastern Mich||9/6/14 3:00 PM|
|Georgia Tech||9/6/14 3:00 PM|
|(18) Ole Miss||9/6/14 3:30 PM|
|Old Dominion||9/6/14 5:00 PM|
|(8) Michigan State||9/6/14 5:30 PM|
|(19) Arizona State||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|San Jose St||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|East Carolina||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|(9) So Carolina|
|Duke||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|(17) Sam Houston St||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|Michigan||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|(17) Notre Dame|
|Lamar||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|(21) Texas A&M|
|Northwestern St||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|Citadel||9/6/14 6:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|San Diego St||9/6/14 7:00 PM|
|(23) North Carolina|
|Virginia Tech||9/6/14 7:00 PM|
|(5) Ohio State|
|Memphis||9/6/14 9:00 PM|
|Colorado State||9/6/14 9:15 PM|
|Air Force||9/6/14 9:15 PM|
|Oregon State||9/6/14 9:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||9/6/14 10:00 PM|
|FC Dallas||0||1st Half 44:55|
|Real Salt Lake||9:30 PM|
|Winnipeg||8/31/14 3:00 PM|
|Toronto||9/1/14 12:00 PM|
|Edmonton||9/1/14 3:30 PM|
|Brt Columbia||9/5/14 6:30 PM|
|Calgary||9/6/14 6:00 PM|
|Hamilton||9/7/14 12:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||9/7/14 3:00 PM|
|Chicago||48||4th Qtr 9:20|
Poll: How sure are you that the Twins are on the road to improving?