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Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to hit (take!) a curve ball

I get a lot of questions related to hitting asking for tips on how to hit a curve ball.  As players get older, pitchers certainly are going to throw more than just a fastball so all hitters have to be prepared – physically and mentally – to handle curve balls and other breaking pitches.

That being said, I believe the best piece of advice has nothing to do with learning to “hit” breaking pitches.  It has to do with becoming better at “not swinging” at breaking pitches.  The lower the level in baseball the less likely a pitcher is going to have command of his breaking pitch(es).  Command means having the ability to throw strikes with the pitch.  This is a bit more complicated than it appears.  Example: A young pitcher throws a curveball that consistently bounces a foot in front of the plate causing many young batters to swing wildly and miss.  Even though the pitch is labeled a “strike” because of the swing, the pitcher does not have “command” of the pitch which means the ability to locate the pitch within the strike zone.  As the pitcher gets older, he will find that pitches routinely swung at are now taken for balls by better hitters.

Although easier said than done, Prince Fielder probably
wishes he could have taken this off-speed pitch.
(Photo by
BostonWolverine)
Throwing breaking pitches for strikes and hitting them are difficult things to do at any level.   Knowing this, it is to the batters advantage to develop a better ability to lay-off breaking pitches.  Chances are, the pitch will not end up being a strike making it more likely the next pitch will be a fastball and thus easier to hit.

If you watch highlights of Major League home runs, you’ll probably notice that any time a breaking pitch is hit for a home run, it’s a bad breaking pitch out over the plate and/or up in the zone.  Very rarely do even Major League hitters hit a great breaking pitch well.  If they cannot do it, it’s unlikely that someone at a lower level will be able to either.

Of course, laying off pitches isn’t as easy as it sounds.  The key is to develop quick enough hands and overall mechanics so you can wait longer before you start your swing.  This doesn’t help as much with being able to hit a good curve ball as it does with helping you have more time to recognize a curve ball and decide not to swing.

So, if you are a player looking to improve your curve ball hitting success, it’s ok to set up a pitching machine and take some swings on some breaking pitches but it is more important to train yourself to swing at them less often.

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