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Baseball Pitches: The Breaking Ball

Baseball Pitches: The Breaking Ball

In baseball, a breaking ball is a pitch that has sideways or downward motion on it, sometimes both.  A “breaker” does not travel straight as it approaches the batter.  Examples of a breaking ball are the curveball, the slider, the knuckle curve, and the screwball.  An essential weapon in his arsenal, most professional pitchers have either a curveball or a slider.  Some possess both breaking pitches.
The king of the breaking pitches is the curveball.  It has more movement than just about any other pitch.  When a right-handed pitcher throws a curveball, it will move down and to the left.  The left-handed pitcher’s curve moves down and to the right.  A pitcher may have the ability to throw a curveball which drops straight down called a “12-6 curve” because the straight vertical drop is described as moving from the number 12 to the number 6 on a clock.

The curve keeps hitters off-balance because with the possibility of a curveball in the back of their minds, batters can’t just exclusively gear up for a fastball.  From the batter’s point of view, the curve starts to come toward him high or at the top of the strike zone, but then it dives rapidly as it approaches the plate.  A batter expecting a fastball will swing too early and over the top of the pitch.  The pitcher needs to make sure the ball will break, otherwise, his pitch will be a high, slow pitch that is easy for the batter to hit hard and far.  This is referred to as a "hanging" curve and often results in an extra-base hit or a home run.
The curveball is gripped much just like one would hold a drinking glass.  The pitcher puts his middle finger on and parallel to one of the longer seams.  His thumb is placed just behind the seam on the opposite side of the ball.  When viewed from above, the hand forms a C-shape. The pointer finger is placed alongside the middle finger, and the other two fingers are folded in towards the palm.  The knuckle of the ring finger touches the leather.
A good curveball grip must be followed by the right delivery.  At the top of the throwing arc the pitcher will snap his arm and wrist in a downward motion.  The snap with the proper grip creates the forward or "topspin" of a curveball.  The sharpness of the ball’s break depends on how hard the pitcher can snap the throw.  The harder the snap, the more the pitch will break.
Another popular breaking ball is the slider.  It is thrown faster and generally with less overall movement than a curveball.  It breaks sharply and at faster speeds than most other breaking pitches.  People confuse the slider and the curveball because they both try to deceive the hitter with spin and movement away from a pitcher's arm-side.
A slider can be slightly more deceptive than a curveball because the ball is thrown harder, and it has spin that more closely resembles a fastball.  The power relief pitcher has just a fastball and a slider in his toolkit.  One pitch sets up the other because of the late deception created when the slider is thrown.
The grip of a slider places the middle and index fingers across the two widest seams.  The fingers should be slightly off-center as if holding the outside third of the ball.  The thumb is tucked under the ball, with the ring and little fingers off to the side.  Upon release, pressure should be applied to the ball with the thumb and middle finger. The ball should roll off the hand with the index finger being the last point of contact.  This gives the slider its spin.
A screwball is a pitch thrown so it will break in the opposite direction of a slider or curveball. Depending on the pitcher's arm angle, the ball may also have a sinking action.  To create the rotation, the pitcher snaps his wrist so that his palm will face away from his glove side. 
The screwball grip starts with the pitcher’s pointer and middle fingers around the top of the ball with the pointer finger resting to the inside of the inner seam. The middle finger is placed about an inch away from the index finger.  The thumb hooks the bottom of the ball to provide stability during delivery.
Another type of breaking ball is the knuckle-curve, and it is just that – a cross between a knuckleball and a curveball. The pitch is one of baseball's greatest contradictions, since a curveball is characterized by its spin, and a knuckleball is known for its lack of rotation. Despite this, the knuckle-curve mixes the best of both pitches -- a slow, curveball break twinned with the unpredictable fluttering of the knuckleball. To achieve the knuckle-curve grip, at least one of the pitcher's fingers is bent while holding the ball (like a knuckleball) while the pitcher gives his wrist a snap just like a curveball.
The effective pitcher must master at least one of the four main types of breaking pitches.  Otherwise, he loses the ability to fool batters.  They will anticipate a straight line ball and track its path toward the plate.  This will allow batters to unload on a pitch and drive it high and deep… and that is bad news for the pitcher and his team.