Curve now takes a back seat to other breaking pitches

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 22, 2011 - 6:29 AM

Difficult to throw and command, the curveball is no longer the out pitch of choice for many.

hide

Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay has one of the best curveballs in the game today.

Photo: Darren Calabrese, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

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.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
Orlando
New York 6:00 PM
Indiana
Denver 7:00 PM
Memphis
Chicago 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Montreal 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Winnipeg 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Boston 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Arizona 6:30 PM
Toronto
Dallas 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Detroit 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Columbus 6:30 PM
Florida
Nashville 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Minnesota 8:00 PM
Calgary
Buffalo 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Anaheim 9:00 PM
San Jose
DePaul 72 FINAL
Providence 83
Michigan State 5:00 PM
Rutgers
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Army
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Detroit
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
Furman
Saint Louis 6:00 PM
George Mason
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
High Point 6:00 PM
Liberty
Central Conn St 6:00 PM
Long Island
Western Ky 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Dayton 6:00 PM
Massachusetts
Chattanooga 6:00 PM
Mercer
Wofford 6:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Maryland 6:00 PM
Ohio State
FIU 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fair-Dickinson 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Mount St Marys 6:00 PM
St Francis-NY
Bryant 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Stetson
Coll of Charleston 6:00 PM
Towson
Western Carolina 6:00 PM
Va Military
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Wagner
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
North Florida
Appalachian St 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Holy Cross 6:30 PM
Loyola-Maryland
Eastern Ill 6:30 PM
UT Martin
Jacksonville St 7:00 PM
Belmont
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Cincinnati
Rider 7:00 PM
Saint Peters
SIU Edwardsville 7:00 PM
SE Missouri St
Marshall 7:00 PM
Southern Miss
Tenn Tech 7:00 PM
Tennessee St
Middle Tennessee 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ill-Chicago 7:00 PM
Milwaukee
Weber State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
Denver 7:00 PM
North Dakota St
IUPU-Ft Wayne 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Louisiana 7:05 PM
South Alabama
Georgia State 7:15 PM
Texas-Arlington
Ark-Little Rock 7:30 PM
Arkansas State
ULM 7:30 PM
Troy
Portland 8:00 PM
Gonzaga
Kentucky 8:00 PM
Missouri
Eastern Ky 8:00 PM
Murray State
UAB 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
UMKC 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Chicago State 8:05 PM
Utah Valley U
Colorado 8:30 PM
USC
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
Hawaii 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Pepperdine 9:00 PM
Pacific
Santa Clara 9:00 PM
San Diego
Utah 9:00 PM
UCLA
UC Santa Barbara 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Montana 9:05 PM
Portland State
Montana State 9:05 PM
Sacramento St
Long Beach State 9:30 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Loyola Marymount 9:30 PM
St Marys-CA
San Francisco 10:00 PM
BYU
California 10:00 PM
Washington St
Louisiana 47 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Saint Josephs 51 FINAL
Saint Louis 52
Appalachian St 24 2nd Half
Georgia Southern 30
Niagara 20 2nd Half
Saint Peters 17
Old Dominion 5:00 PM
FIU
Southern Miss 5:00 PM
Marshall
Georgia State 5:00 PM
TX-Arlington
Ark-Little Rock 5:05 PM
Arkansas State
ULM 5:15 PM
Troy
Pittsburgh 5:30 PM
(17) Duke
(6) Tennessee 6:00 PM
(10) Kentucky
(24) Oklahoma 6:00 PM
(14) Texas
Nebraska Omaha 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
UC-Riverside 6:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Army 6:00 PM
Boston U
New Orleans 6:00 PM
Nicholls
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Towson 6:00 PM
Delaware
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Northeastern
New Hampshire 6:00 PM
Maine
Albany 6:00 PM
Vermont
Hartford 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
UNC-Wilmington 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Clemson 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
Alabama 6:00 PM
(1) South Carolina
(23) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(8) Louisville
Missouri 6:00 PM
Florida
Iona 6:00 PM
Fairfield
Manhattan 6:00 PM
Marist
NC State 6:00 PM
Virginia
(4) Notre Dame 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
(22) Rutgers 6:00 PM
Purdue
(5) Maryland 6:00 PM
Michigan
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
Cleveland State
Wright State 6:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
USC Upstate
North Florida 6:00 PM
Kennesaw St
Stetson 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Loyola-Maryland 6:05 PM
Holy Cross
Lamar 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Fla Gulf Coast 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Vanderbilt 7:00 PM
(18) Miss State
IUPUI 7:00 PM
Western Ill
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
McNeese State 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Oral Roberts 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
Louisiana Tech 7:00 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
UAB
Auburn 7:00 PM
Arkansas
Grand Canyon 7:00 PM
UMKC
Illinois 7:00 PM
(15) Nebraska
(20) Iowa 7:00 PM
Northwestern
Utah Valley U 7:05 PM
Chicago State
Green Bay 7:05 PM
Valparaiso
Ole Miss 8:00 PM
LSU
Portland State 8:00 PM
Montana
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
Montana State
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Weber State
Ohio State 8:00 PM
Wisconsin
Northern Colorado 8:00 PM
Idaho State
BYU 9:00 PM
San Francisco
St Marys-CA 9:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Pacific 9:00 PM
Pepperdine
Cal-Irvine 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
San Diego 9:00 PM
Santa Clara
UC Davis 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Long Beach St 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How optimistic are you about the 2015 Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close