Hitters who know how to hit the curveball don't come out of the womb knowing how to hit the curveball. It’s a skill that anyone can acquire by understanding key hitting principles at the plate. Period.
Then it's about repetitions at game speed.
The count is 0-2. Your coach says “protect the plate”! “Be ready to battle”!.
You dig in the box. Take a deep breath. Whiiiffff! You chased a ball in the dirt.
Here’s another scenario.
It’s 1-0 or 2-2. The pitcher throws a breaking ball, pitch to contact. Meaning, he’s not trying to strike you out, he’s trying to get you to hit a ground ball.
He leaves it hanging up in the zone.
You take it. It was a pitch that you should've crushed. You shake your kid in regret.
Does this sound familiar?
Often times, when we strike out we don’t strike out on strike three, we strike out on the first strike that we should have hit hard.
I've never given you a hitting lesson and I’ve never seen you hit during the game but a "buck gets ten" that 80% of your strikeouts are swinging at balls in the dirt.
On the other side, when we throw away at-bats, it’s usually because we’re pulling pitches we should be driving to the big part of the field. We should be hitting it oppo.
Today, we’ll be talking about eight hitting principles that will teach you how to hit a curveball more consistently whether it’s a youth level curveball or an elite one.
Let's dive in...
1. Know The Situation
“Know the situation and figure it out". This is what Harold Reynolds told us while hanging out in our dugout just before we hit the field against the University of San Diego.
The game is unpredictable. You have to anticipate and adapt. Knowing the situation is baseball instincts.
Figuring it out is mental toughness.
You need both to hit a curveball consistently.
Rather, the first step in learning how to hit the curveball more effectively is knowing what situations a pitcher is likely to throw the curveball.
Here are some examples.
Ahead in the count - If the pitcher is ahead in the count, 0-1, 1-2, 0-2, the pitcher is either going to nibble the plate or bury the pitch in the dirt to get the hitter to chase.
Runners in scoring position - 80% of the time, a pitcher is going to either start an at-bat or follow a strike with a breaking ball with a runner in scoring position. Especially is they’ve been throwing it for strikes, consistently.
Two outs, runners in scoring position and firsts base is open - If there’s a guy on second or third, and first base is open, the pitcher can afford a walk to set up the force out.
This means working the hitter away or starting off with a breaking ball is an ideal approach for the situation.
For the hitter, the breaking ball is coming eventually because the pitcher can afford to not throw it for a strike and walk the hitter.
Common Curveball Siutations
A pitcher pitching backward - If the pitcher is pitching backwards, throwing breaking balls in hitters counts, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1 then the hitter can expect to see a breaking ball.
2-2 pitch to contact - The pitcher wants to avoid the walk. Wants to keep his defense engaged, wants to work fast, get out of a tough situation, or force a double play, the 2-2 curveball pitch to contact is a common approach. It won’t be the perfect breaking ball.
It just needs to be a strike.
When the hitter crushed the FB in a previous at-bat - As a hitter, if you’ve proven you can hit the fastball, the pitcher will see what you can’t hit until you can prove you can hit it.
When you hit the fastball well, you'll often times be followed up with a breaking ball.
If you looked bad on a previous curveball - You better believe you’ll get a steady dose of breaking balls if you looked like a fool on one until you’ve proven you can make the adjustment.
2. Anticipate The Curveball
So now that you know some common situations pitchers will throw a curveball, the adjustment is knowing when you’re in these situations, and then anticipating them.
How do you do that? You watch the pitcher and document in your mind what pitches he’s been throwing for balls and strikes.
In other words, by watching the at-bats of your teammates, you’re collecting valuable data that will give you more to work with when it’s your turn to hit.
So instead of goofing off with your teammates or looking to see if your girlfriend is in the stands, keep your eyes on the pitcher.
The pitcher is the test. Watching the pitcher's every move on the mind is how you create a cheat sheet.
3. Have The Correct Approach
What’s the standard approach to hitting the curveball?
Letting it travel deeper in the zone while looking for the pitch up in the zone.
Load late and zone up.
The two main reasons why we struggle with making solid contact on the breaking ball is because we were either out front, or we swung at a ball in the dirt.
So we throw away the at-bat with a weak ground ball or strikeout.
We have to load late and look for something up in the zone.
Loading late allows you to be on time.
Looking for something up allows you to swing at a breaking ball that ends up a strike when it crosses the plate.
A breaking ball that starts low will end up in the dirt when it crosses the plate.
Remember: If it starts low, it'll be low. If it starts high, it'll end a strike.
4. See The Pop
The breaking ball is the only pitch that seems to pop out of the pitcher's hand at the release point.
All pitches after release have a slight downward plane off the mound.
The breaking ball has a slightly more downward plane because of the break but the release point is always slightly higher than a fastball to measure in the break.
Especially if the curveball is thrown for a strike.
When this happens, the ball will tend to pop-up and out of the pitcher's hand before it gets back on the normal plane of the pitch.
For hitters, anticipating or recognizing the pop-up early will give you a better chance at recognizing the pitch as you make your adjustment at the plate.
See the shade, break and wrist angles
A curveball tends to have a lighter shade than a fastball or slider. Since the seams of the ball rotate slower, you’ll be able to pick up the red seams a bit more.
A good curveball will have roughly a 12 to 6 o’clock break.
The arm action will usually showcase a wider wrist since the pitcher's fingers are on the side of the ball.
Click here for more information on reading seams and movement on pitches to develop better pitch recognition.
5. Take a Fastball Swing
One common hitting flaw I see a lot of young hitters make during the game is swinging at breaking balls to "just make contact" or to "not miss".
The swing isn’t aggressive enough. This can't happen.
A common mantra I strive to drill into the mind of my hitters is, "the more aggressive the swing, the more accurate it will be”.
A good swing on a curveball is the same as a good swing on a fastball. As hitters, we’re taking fastball swings on off-speed pitches.
We’re not swinging, hoping to hit it hard. We’re swinging while absolutely knowing that we’re going to hit it hard.
A controlled violent swing.
Train to recognize the curveball in the Applied Vision Baseball App.
6. Keep Posture
Repeat after me. "If you have to leave your posture, it’s not a strike."
Now say it 10 times a day.
What’s rule number one for learning how to hit a curveball? Swing at strikes. Well, it's Knowing the situation, but above all it's understanding this point.
At the end of the day, the pitcher's best pitch is strike one. For most, it's the fastball.
7. Don’t Miss The Fastball
Often times we don’t strike out on the third called strike.
We strike out on the first or second strike that we should have hit hard.
Sometimes, the best way to hit the curveball is to hit his fastball.
Not all good hitters are great curveball hitters.
Some are just really good at not missing the fastball when they get a good pitch to hit.
In essence, as hitters what we really want to be is a good “mistake pitch” hitter.
Meaning, when the pitcher gives us a good pitch to hit, we do damage.
We’re not going to hit all the pitches that are located well in the zone.
This is why good pitching beats good hitting most of the time.
8. Master The How To Hit a Curveball Checklist
Lastly, mastering these principles won't happen overnight. It'll happen slowly at first and then one day, it'll become an established tool in your hitting toolbox.
As these hitting principles "click", you'll become more confident with hitting the secondary pitches just as you are with the fastball.
Until then, keep this how to hit a curveball checklist in mind.
- Remember, the pitcher's best pitch always strikes one.
- See the "pop-out" of the pitch and the shade of the ball
- Be selectively aggressive on pitches you’re looking
- Look for mistake pitches left up in the zone that you can hit hard in the gap
- Swing to hit the ball hard instead of to just make contact
- Let the ball travel
- Swing at strikes.
Stay after it.