Deuce AKA Curveball Smashing 101: How to Hit Tape Measure Shots & Return Your Trays to Their Upright and Locked Positions
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Do you really want to hear what the secret to hitting a curveball is?
Surprisingly, it's NOT how you position yourself in the box. It's NOT some drastic mechanical style change like widening your stance or setting your hands higher...nope. And if we practice hitting a curveball with a wheel pitching machine, then we'll definitely dig our own graves to inconsistency and continued failure at the plate.
Recently I've been working with one of my hitting students on his approach to hitting a deuce for the past couple weeks, and later we'll look into video of him doing just that, but first, let's discuss:
The technical adjustments we need to secure (yeah, I know what I said earlier, but
the key word there was "drastic mechanical changes"),
The Zen Hitting mental approach to priming our body to hit a curveball, and how you
can be the Swashbuckler you were always meant to be, AND
What TOP 3 Drills are best for arming ourselves to hit "the looper" consistently well.
Let's begin with,
There are three critical keys when we're striving to improve our curveball approach as a hitter. The major goal here is to have consistent success with hitting the darn thing.
1. Be short to it - The reason I mentioned drastically changing our mechanics shouldn't be a part of the solution is because we aren't necessarily altering our mechanics. We should always be short to the ball no matter what pitch we're hitting.
To be short to the baseball, during the Launch Phase of the swing, we have to keep the knob pointed down at the incoming pitch, this most importantly keeps the barrel up until contact. Once we get to about 1-3 inches before contact, we push the barrel through the contact zone about 6-8 inches.
2. Get on top - one of the biggest side effects of hitting a curveball is dropping the barrel in the contact zone too soon and being too long with the swing. If we're not experienced in hitting this particular pitch, then it's because the eyes see the loop in the plane of the pitched ball, then reacts by looping the bat and buckling the knees.
Both mean we're not prepared.
Once we get plenty of repetition seeing and hitting a curveball, then the days of this pitch buckling our knees will virtually go away. Do you see Albert Pujols suffer from Knee Buckle Syndrome very often? Nope. Because he's put in his work hitting this pitch.
This is why I tell my kids to get on top when we practice hitting the deuce. This is a simple cue for keeping the barrel up and the eyes above the ball.
3. Don't let the eyes drift/drop - the eyes are our guide to a disciplined sound smarter swing, when they drift (like lunging or leaking), our eyes register the pitched baseball faster than what velocity the ball is actually traveling...AND, when the eyes drop (most of the time caused by too narrow of a stance), the ball seems to bounce on us. Both are death to ANY swing, nevertheless trying to hit a curveball.
So, how do we program our eyes to gage a curveball optimally?
With rhythm, weight shift, and stride.
In a moment, you'll see why my hitting student's eyes don't move very much...the rhythm technique he employs, which includes his weight shift, is a testament to why he has very good plate discipline. Now, I'm not saying to mimic what he does because it may not work for everyone, but we can use the same principals to get the same result:
Rhythm: this can be rocking, opening/closing the hands on the bat, moving the barrel around,
tapping the front foot, etc.
Weight Shift: should be favoring the backside about 70/30 and should stay there through
the entire swing. After the launch portion of the swing, imagine a steel pole going
through the crown of the head, down the spine, and entering the ground directly beneath
our back knee.
Stride: front foot stride should be very soft like how a cautious cat walks.
Next, what should we be thinking with our,
ZEN HITTING CURVEBALL MENTAL APPROACH
Look up the middle - early on in competition, at least until you get into college/pro ball, you don't want to be too fine with hitting a curveball in a certain pitched location
unless the pitcher has proven he can spot it with above average skill.
From High School on down, those pitchers are a rarity. And in baseball, you play the percentages.
Otherwise, we should be looking to hit the curveball up the middle of the field. Mike Schmidt's approach to hitting was always the same, try to drive the ball up the middle.
It's easier to make a smaller adjustment in case the pitch is inside or away if we're looking up the middle, than looking away and trying to make a BIGGER adjustment all the way across
the plate inside.
Make sense? Play the percentages.
Cut the ball off out in front - hitting the curveball by letting it get deep is hogwash. And it's what I heard all my life, even at the D-1 level in college.
Jack Clark said to cut the ball off out in front of the plate, especially breaking pitches because you get them before they start to change planes. Remember, a decent looper changes
two planes, vertically and horizontally, so when we wait too long, then we're making it harder to hit and playing into the pitcher's game plan.
Hold on though, I like to take this concept one step further...
...as long as you're making contact out in front of your stride foot for most pitches (location-wise), then you're doing okay. This caveat is because every player stands
differently in the batter's box, so we can't definitively say to make contact out in front of the plate.
Pitchers work feverishly on their muscle memory in getting the ball to break over the plate or out in front (more on this in a moment) because they know most hitters wait too long, so why not get it before the break?
Pick out a window - NO, not a bay style window with a view of the Santa Monica pier silly...an imaginary window halfway between the pitcher's mound and the contact zone.
This small window is what a batter uses to decide whether to pull the trigger on a particular pitch before it gets to our optimal contact zone. On higher velocity straighter pitches, the window is closer to the pitcher, on off speed and breaking stuff, the window is closer to the hitter.
Now, this window will depend on how well the pitcher's stuff breaks, does he throw a "spinner" or a "12-6" deuce? Also, your window will depend on if the hitter likes the ball low or higher in the strike-zone. The answer to those questions will ultimately reveal where to place your imaginary window. These decisions can be easily made during practice, in the batting cage, so get plenty of repetitions, and these answers will
reveal themselves over time, so don't worry or get confused over them.
Therefore, anything above or below the window and we're taking the pitch.
We've finished with our technique and Zen Hitting approach, now how do we practice hitting the yacker?
Front Lob Toss - the pitcher sits on a chair about 30-40 feet from the hitter with a protective screen in front, and lobs the ball underhand like in competitive slow pitch softball (4 to 6-foot arc).
What the batter gets good repetition on is on:
Staying on top of the ball with the eyes and barrel (not letting the barrel drop too soon),
Sitting back on the backside and not lunging (patience), and
Being short to the ball.
The only logical way to hit a lobbed ball well and put backspin on it is to stay short and swing through it.
Self fungo toss - I did this one till the cows came home when I was younger and didn't realize its benefits until I started coaching. It's such a simple drill, and the best part is
you don't need a partner. I just used a whiffle ball and bat trying to hit balls from my front yard to the back yard, OR from my driveway to my across the street neighbor's rooftop :P
It's super simple, just hold a ball in one hand and the bat in the other, make sure to get into your stance, throw the ball up about 2-3 feet in the air just out in front of your stride foot over an imaginary plate, and hit it.
If we toss it too far out front or too close, then take the pitch. We want to watch out for getting into the habit of lunging to hit the ball...make sure we keep 70% of our weight on
the back leg.
Same objectives here as the Front Lob Toss Drill, keep eyes and barrel above the ball, short to it, and long through it.
Above all, the best drill we can utilize to practice hitting a curveball is good ol' fashion,
LIVE batting practice with a real flesh and blood human pitcher - nothing can ever replace the true functionality of hitting a deuce than a real person throwing them. Contrary
to what other coaches think, even at the higher levels, hitting curveballs from a wheel based pitching machine is the worst thing for a player's timing and development.
The hard part, if we don't know already, is to learn how to throw one. It doesn't cost much to learn how, with all the free information on the world wide web, and it'll pay for itself a million-fold when you or your young player excels faster than most kids because they're stuck on the old mantra of not enough curveball practice, or when they do, it's on the aforementioned
worst pitching machines ever manufactured for baseball players.
Here's a popular YouTube video on how to throw a curveball:
Will throwing too many curveballs as batting practice hurt your arm? Depends on how you take care of your golden wing, and execute the BP.
I throw from a standing distance of about 30-40 feet, and put just enough on it to get the plane change simulation. If your arm is aching afterwards, make sure to ice where it hurts a couple times a day for 15 minutes at a time. And, if we blew our arm out eons ago, then we can always pay a local high school pitcher $10/hour who knows how.
There's NO excuse for cutting corners on this, as a matter of fact, you or the young ballplayer's future depends on it. Taking advantage of the Swashbuckler Effect is surprisingly venturing
into uncharted territory. Start today and Swing Smarter!