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The curveball (also known as the bender, and Uncle Charlie), is a breaking pitch in baseball thrown with a characteristic grip and hand movement that imparts downward spin to the ball. It is therefore considered a type of breaking ball. Contrary to a fastball (which has only back spin), the curveball has a down spin that causes it to drop as it approaches the plate. A curveball can be used to disrupt the opponent's timing by taking velocity off the ball, or trick the opponent by either throwing the ball up and out of the strike zone making the batter think it is a ball while the ball drops back into the strike zone for a strike or the pitcher can throw it in the strike zone causing the ball the break out of the strike zone making the batter fish for the ball. The curveball, however, requires mastery and the ability to pinpoint the balls location. If the curveball gets hung in the air it could hit the batter, get behind the catcher (causing a stolen base if there were runners on base) and even hang the ball right over the plate for a hitter to drive on. But once mastered, the curveball (aside from the changeup) is one of the most effective off-speed pitches in baseball.

Contents

Theory

A fastball typically has backspin, giving it relatively stable aerodynamic characteristics in flight. The spin of a curveball moves in the opposite direction. This spin causes a curveball to "break", or drop downward as it approaches home plate, thus throwing off the timing of the batter.

When throwing a curve, the pitcher creates downspin by rolling his or her palm and fingers over the top of the ball while releasing it. The direction of the break depends on the axis of spin on the ball. There are many variations of the curveball, but most are described in terms of their movement when superimposed on a clock. A "12–6" or "overhand" has a more or less straight downward action as it approaches the plate (imagine the face of a clock), while more sweeping curveballs might be described as "1–7" or "slurves". The slurve (though considered a different pitch than a curveball) is most commonly found in left-handed pitchers, and rarely right-handed though there are pitchers that use both a curveball and a slurve in their repertoire. There is no specific amount that the ball breaks, but the deviation from a fastball trajectory becomes progressively greater as the ball approaches the plate. The amount of breaking is normally determined by the amount at which the pitcher snaps his wrist. A quick hard snap will cause more of a break than a looser snap (this is because the faster the laces spin, the more it effects the airflow around the ball which causes the balls movement or "break").

Generally the Magnus effect describes the laws of physics that make a curveball curve. A fastball travels through the air with backspin, which creates a high-pressure zone in the air ahead of and under the baseball. The baseball's raised seams augment the ball's ability to churn the air and create high pressure zones. The effect of gravity is temporarily counteracted as the ball rides on and into energized air. Thus the travel of a fastball is more or less straight, at least over the distance from the mound to home plate.

On the other hand, a curveball, thrown with topspin, creates a high-pressure zone on top of the ball, which deflects the ball downward in flight. Combined with gravity, this gives the ball an exaggerated drop in flight that is difficult for the hitter to track. Some pitchers, however, have a three-quarter arm slot (instead of an overhand arm slot) which puts somewhat of a diagonal spin on the ball causing the curveball to have some horizontal movement as well, depending on the tilt of its axis of spin.

At the professional level, a curveball is usually about 20 miles per hour slower than a fastball. However, curveball behavior is unique to each pitcher. Some use a more looping slow curve and some use a harder, faster slurve. The speed difference between a curveball and fastball, as well as the curveball's movement, serve to deceive the batter. Ideally, a curveball will have its greatest break just as it reaches the plate and cause the batter to swing above it or fish for the ball.

To throw a curveball correctly, proper spin must be given to the ball as it is released. Pitchers usually position their index finger aside one of the ball's raised seams on the horseshoe part of the laces for more leverage in spinning the baseball. They bring their arm through the air in a "karate chop" motion. At the release point they then roll their hand over the top of the ball turning the back of their hand to the plate in order to throw it forward with downspin. If this movement is poorly executed the ball will have lazy spin, not break in flight, and be much easier to hit (the "hanging curve").

When thrown correctly, it could have a huge break from seven to as much as 20 inches![citation needed].

There has been debate on whether a curve ball actually curves or is an optical illusion. In 1949, Ralph B. Lightfoot, an aeronautical engineer at Sikorsky Aircraft, used wind tunnel tests to prove that a curve ball does in fact actually curve.[1] However, optical illusion caused by the ball's spinning may play an important part in what makes curve balls difficult to hit. The curveball's trajectory is smooth, however the batter perceives a sudden, dramatic change in the ball's direction. When an object that is spinning and moving through space is viewed directly, the overall motion is interpreted correctly by the brain. However, as it enters the peripheral vision, the internal spinning motion distorts how the overall motion is perceived. A curveball's trajectory begins in the center of the batter's vision, but overlaps with peripheral vision as it approaches the plate, which may explain the suddenness of the break perceived by the batter.[2][3] On whether a curve ball is caused by an illusion, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean has been quoted in a number of variations on this basic premise: "Stand behind a tree 60 feet away, and I'll whomp you with an optical illusion!"

A popular nickname for a curveball is the "deuce", since catchers often use a two-finger signal when requesting the curveball. Other popular nicknames for the pitch include: "hammer", "bender", "hook", "yakker", "Public Enemy No. 1", (as coined by the Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, in reference to the curve ball of Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw) and "Uncle Charlie".[4]

Injuries

A curveball, because of the risk of injury to the pitcher’s elbow and shoulder, can be considered a more advanced pitch, geared towards pitchers with more developed and mature arms. It is suggested that the pitcher be near 16 to 18 years old before attempting a curve ball. This restriction is not due to the ability to learn how to throw a curveball; rather, the restriction is advised to allow for proper maturity of the pitcher’s arm. Generally, in most children, the cartilage and tendons in a pitchers arm have not yet been developed and could reveive micro-tears that can permanately damage a pitcher's arm.

Important factors to consider before learning how to throw a curve:

  • Has the child hit puberty?
  • How developed are the child’s muscles and connective tissues, i.e.—ligaments, tendons, and bones?
  • Is the pitcher in the middle of a growth spurt? If yes, then do not start throwing a curveball.
  • Has the pitcher been taught the correct mechanics in order to throw a curveball?

The parts of the arm that are most commonly injured by the curveball are the ligaments in the elbow, the biceps and the forearm muscles.[5]

The technique can also influence the likelihood of injury, such as whether the pitcher snaps their wrist, or twists their arm.

History

Baseball lore has it that the curveball was invented in the early 1870s by Fred Goldsmith or Candy Cummings (its debatable). An early demonstration of the "skewball" or curveball occurred at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn in August, 1870 by Fred Goldsmith. In 1869, a reporter for the New York Clipper described Phonney Martin as an "extremely hard pitcher to hit for the ball never comes in a straight line‚ but in a tantalizing curve." If the observation is true, this would pre-date Cummings and Goldsmith.[6] In 1884, St. Nicholas, a children's magazine, featured a story entitled, "How Science Won the Game". It told of how a boy pitcher mastered the curve ball to defeat the opposing batters. In the early years of the sport, use of the curveball was thought to be dishonest and was outlawed,[citation needed] but officials could not do much to stop pitchers from using it. In the past, major league pitchers Bob Feller, Virgil Trucks, Herb Score, Camilo Pascual and Sandy Koufax were regarded as having outstanding curveballs. Steve Carlton is said to have had the best curveball in the recent modern era.[citation needed] Other notable pitchers who throw or threw great curveballs since 1900 are/were, David Wells, Barry Zito, Sal Maglie, Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan, Darryl Kile, Matt Morris. Orel Hershiser, Tom Gordon, Aaron Sele, Tommy Bridges, Bert Blyleven, Clayton Kershaw, and Three Finger Brown. In 2008 Ben Sheets threw curveballs 33.0% of the time, more than any other starter, and A.J. Burnett threw them a higher percentage of the time than any other AL starter; 29.2%.[1]

References

External links

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