Despite the recent decades’ trend in the use of Hard-Sliders and lateral-breaking Sweepers, many pitchers still use the Standard-Curveball as their out-pitch.
Why do pitchers still use it?
If the curveball isn’t effective at generating outs, it would’ve been long-gone like the forkball or the three-finger changeup.
Here’s the thing: Despite the ‘popping out of the hand’ effect curveballs have, hitters still swing at it. A lot.
Why is that?
The secret is that…
…The curveball doesn’t work like the typical breaking ball.
It tunnels with something else than a middle-middle pitch: an Elevated Fastball.
Why do hitters swing at elevated fastballs?
Before we figure how the “curveball in the dirt” tunnels with the elevated fastball, we have to know why hitters swing at the elevated fastball in the first place.
It’s weird isn’t it?
…supposed Big-League hitter swinging at a fastball way out of the strike zone.
But some things about this pitch makes it so attractive to swing at:
Hitters LOVE absolutely hammering the ball. That’s the best thing that can happen in 99.9% of the at-bats.
What’s the best pitch for creating the biggest, monster homerun that goes out of the ballpark?
Up & In Fastballs.
For every hitter with modern swing mechanics, high & inside is where the most power is generated.
Most homeruns are pulled(like the gif. shown). The bat is also slightly under the ball which creates optimal launch angle and backspin for hitting the ball very, very far.
And what are Up & In Fastballs?
- They are the fastest.
- They have the rise.
- They have the perfect location.
After thousands of batting practices, hitters know that.
They don’t just know it. It’s even instinctual at that level.
When a fastball comes in like that, their instincts tell them: “SWING, pull that over the fence.”
And remember, hitters have less than 0.3 seconds to make the decision. Most of hitting is instinctual, developed with hours of practice.
#2. Size of the Ball
The closer the ball is to the eyes, the bigger they appear.
The bigger the ball seems, it looks as if it’s easier to hit; the bigger target is easier to hit.
It’s a little optical illusion trick.
While the hitter keeps his eyes low, and all of the sudden a fastball comes in high.
In the eyes of the hitter(which has its focus on every little details of the pitch), the ball looks HUGE.
Curveball in the dirt vs. Elevated Fastball
As we know, hitters see the ‘pop’ on the curveball to lay it off.
And that pop is what tunnels with the fastball.
This is what makes the curveball different from other breaking balls:
…most breaking balls tunnel off of middle-middle fastball; they stay middle, (hitter decides to swing), out of the zone.
…most curveballs instead, tunnel off of up-in fastball; they go up, (hitter decides to swing), down, out of the zone.
Though, hitters do swing at middle fastballs more.
Let’s not forget that.
Middle-middle fastballs are still, obviously, more attractive than high fastballs.
That doesn’t make the high fastballs useless, however.
Curveballs aren’t the best chase pitch. But, throwing them has other benefits that other chase pitches don’t have.
(These will be explained later in the Pitches of Baseball Series)
- Hitters swing at the elevated fastball because A. Their instincts tell them that it’s a home-run pitch. B. The ball looks bigger, and bigger balls are more attractive.
- The ‘pop’ on the curveball tunnels with the elevated fastball.
- This mechanism isn’t the best method to get the hitters to swing, but the curveball has other benefits to overcome that.