Using the curve and screw effectively
One of the things I find fascinating when I read discussion boards is how many people — especially the old-time pitchers — seem to have a bias against the curve and the screw. Their basic premise is you should only be throwing pitches that move up or down, i.e. the rise and the drop, because they’re harder to hit than a ball that stays flat.
It makes me wonder what their expectations are or experience is with the curve and screw. I’ve found them both to be very effective pitches when thrown correctly and under the right circumstances.
First of all, the curve and screw don’t have to be flat pitches. A screw that goes up as well as in can be tough to hit (more on that later). The curve will tend to be flatter, but will still have some tendency to drop in most cases.
But the real advantage is in location. I think too often the people who don’t like the curve or screw tend to throw them or see them thrown for strikes. That’s not necessarily what you want to do.
I like a curve that starts out as a strike, out on the outer third of the plate. Then, a couple of feet before the plate it breaks off and is essentially a ball. The thing is, the hitter made her decision to swing before the ball broke, so she’s essentially swinging at a ball. If she does hit it, she likely won’t hit it very hard. But the odds are she will swing and miss, chasing a pitch that’s too far outside to hit. That’s a great 0-2 pitch. If she doesn’t go for that outside pitch, come back with a pitch on the outside corner that doesn’t break laterally. If she laid off once she’ll likely lay off again, only this time it is a strike.
If you can throw a back door curve on the other hand, you’re throwing a pitch that looks like it will plunk the hitter in the ribs. She backs off, and the ball goes across the plate for a strike. As long as the blue is watching the pitch the entire way you get an easy strike.
On the screw, there are a couple of strategies that make it effective. To simplify the description, we’ll assume a right-handed pitcher (RHP). Her pitch will break in toward a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty.
Assuming you can get actual break and not just angle, the screw can be very effective against a big hitter. It starts out looking all fat, around the middle of the plate, then breaks in on the hands. The bigger hitter who was planning on crushing the middle of the plate pitch has to pull in her hands and hit with alligator arms. If she does catch it in time, odds are you’re going to see a long foul ball down the left field line, which looks spectactular but is still a strike, same as a ball popped back into the screen.
With less talented hitters, a ball darting up and in toward their hands or face masks can be pretty intimidating. They back off, the ball stays on the plate, again you get an easy strike. One of the beauties here is that there usually aren’t many kids around who throw a good screw, so if you can the hitter has fewer reference points to use in recognizing it. If one happens to get away and plunk someone, so much the better. The others will think twice before digging in.
For lefties, the screw can be used the same as a curve for righties — a pitch that breaks off the plate. You can also have lefty slappers chasing what looks like a good pitch to slap — providing you can adjust the break point to the front of the batter’s box. Otherwise, the slapper will catch it before it breaks. Since slappers are taught to swing down, they may wind up getting the bat too low too early, swinging under the pitch because it’s not where they thought it would be. No need to throw it for a strike; it only has to look like it will be a strike when the hitter makes her decision, which is usually about halfway between the plate and the pitchers rubber.
The objective with pitching is to get hitters to swing at pitches that they thought would be good but turn out not to be. The curve and the screw can both qualify if you use them correctly.