As promised, this month’s column has to do with ball rotation and the misunderstandings/misteachings that go with it. I’m sure I’ll digress onto other topics as I go but, I’ve been meaning to discuss this topic on many occassions because there seems to be A LOT of bad teachings in regard to this.
First, it should be said that I believe in 3 pitches and 3 pitches only. Rise, drop, and change up. It’s extremely common in girls softball that there is a “fastball” along with curves, screwballs, and countless other things. How and why these things have come into play is beyond me. But, I personally, I only throw 3 pitches therefore I only teach 3. I get many students at clinics and for private lessons who come to me saying they have upwards of 6 or 7 pitches. Hardly any do what they seem to think they should do but, that’s beside the point.
It’s also important to know, that while I believe in only 3 pitches, it’s vital to know that all 3 should be varied in speed. In any game, regardless of what pitches someone is throwing, the pitcher should NEVER throw the same speed 2 pitches in a row. The only exception to that rule is if you are truely and completely overpowering a team. If pure heat is enough to win the game, then that’s all one should throw. Why give anyone in the crowd or potential opponents a good view of your best pitches and your tendencies to throw certain pitches in certain situations? Changing speeds on ANY pitch can be done as simply as adding or removing a finger or 2 from the grip. Remember, the more hand that is on the ball during the pitch, the less speed the pitch will have. So, you can always vary the speed of the ball by how many fingers you grip it with. Want more speed, take some of your hand off the ball! It co! uld take some getting used to in terms of comfort but, the difference should be very apparent.
Unlike in baseball, we have the luxery as pitchers to make the ball go UP and down. This should be used to it’s maximum! The reality is, the fastball, curveball, and screwball all stay on the same plane. Even in baseball, the fastball does change planes. Albeit it’s not a huge change but, because the mound is elevated the ball does come down slightly. As we’ve all seen the curveball breaks down in addition to curving in baseball. If the ball stays on the same plane it’s much more likely to get hit, which is why baseball hitters chase the high fastball so often.
Hitting a pitch that is not changing planes is much easier than one that is changing planes, naturally. If you throw a curveball consistantly, I believe that the you will get hurt more with that pitch as you get older than you probably think. Why? As I stated before, I, along with the rest of the elite in men’s fastpitch throw only 3 pitches. More and more guys like myself are getting into the female softball game. Therefore all our teachings and coaching philosophies are being introduced also. It seems that ever year the women’s game in college, Olympics or whatever is employing more and more men’s players. Hitting and pitching coaches! Especially at young ages, I would encourage all pitchers NOW to transform the curves and fastballs into rises and drops. The change is subtle in terms of delivery and mostly has to do with how the fingers rotate the ball.
Probably the most common problem among pitchers trying to learn pitches (rise and drop) is, they are taught from an early age that the wrist is of the utmost importance. While the wrist plays a big role in every pitch, it’s the FINGERS that spin the ball. Regardless of what pitch is being thrown, the fingers are what makes the ball spin correctly or incorrectly. Often, pitchers are taught the “wrist snap” only which does not generate enough rotation to make the ball do anything. Moreover, the ball will have incorrect rotation if it’s just the wrist that’s snapping. Remember, the ball should SNAP upwards on the rise and BITE down on the drop. The pitches shouldn’t angle upwards or downwards, they should break hard. This is only accomplished by correct rotation on the ball. Correct rotation is only accomplished by snapping of the wrist AND fingers to make the ball spin correctly. All too often coaches, (again, many of these coaches are not and have not ever been pitchers) are teaching a flawed pitch.
Before anyone tries claifying with me that their fastball does actually move (like a drop), then you should know that what that pitcher is throwing IS a peel drop. The difference between what people call a fastball and the way I teach students to throw a drop is so small that it’s almost immeasurable. The difference between a curve and a rise is how the ball is released out of the hand! Backwards spin is a rise, sideways is a curve! The only time I advocate a curve is when it has a rise with it.. sometimes called a slurve. It goes UP and Curves. Many batters will chase this pitch.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that regardless of what pitch is being thrown, to get the maximum effectiveness, it’s important to use all 4 seams. Don’t be decieved into thinking this is another similarity between baseball and softball pitching! Not being a baseball pitcher, I cannot explain WHY someone throws a 2 seam pitch. But, in softball, to get the maximum break on any pitch, all 4 seams are needed!. The grip the pitcher uses to throw any pitch is not as important as the rotation. So, if the pitcher can get that ball spinning correctly, tightly, with all 4 seams… then they’ve found the secret. If it’s not a tight rotation and only 2 seams are breaking into the wind to make the ball move, they are losing 1/2 of the effectiveness. Why would any pitcher want the ball to only break 1/2 of what it’s capable of?
In closing, I want to be very emphatic that while practice makes permanent, it doesn’t always make perfect! Things have to be done right to be perfect! Training all winter is a great start but, also don’t be afraid to give yourself some time here and there to let you body relax and your mind get off softball. When I was pitching year round between the USA and New Zealand (back in my youth!) I became more tired mentally than physically. If you decide to go to clinics or host a clinic, make sure your instructor makes sense in what he/she says. And, be sure to do follow ups! Clinics are great but, if the pitcher begins to fall back into old/bad habits without refreshers…that leads to even more problems. I hope to get to as many places as I can to help as many pitchers as possible. Drop me a note if interested.
NOW IS THE TIME!