[Since I don’t get to the definition very quickly…cement mixer curveball defined. I can’t find video for it…]
I’m a baseball fan. I would not say I’m a “hardcore” fan if only because I don’t have enough time to remember individual OBPS or WHIP for hitters or pitchers, respectively. I do know enough to know what those stats are, though…
What I do know is that a lot of analysts and color commentators get the technical stuff wrong during games. This always drives me crazy because, of your job is to help enlighten viewers and listeners about why that was a poor fielding decision or that bad mechanics les to the pitch that led to that home run, then do it right – don’t be lazy and take the easy way out.
A great example has to do with curveballs and, in some cases, breaking balls in general. These are funny beasts. The best of them can be devastating pitches that can easily be a number 1 pitch (see: Barry Zito when he was good). A mediocre one can be a third pitch that keeps a batter guessing just enough to make the first two pitches even better. The worst of them…well, they’re bad. But the point is that a breaking pitch is something almost every pitcher throws, but to varying degrees of effectiveness.
They’re also odd pitches, plain and simple. They rely entirely on the spin on the ball, letting all 108 laces and friction with the air coupled with incredibly fast rotation to make the ball drop anywhere from 6″ to 2-3′ (yes, feet). To achieve the right rotation, you basically let the ball slip out of your hand. Rather than putting your fingers behind the ball to impart velocity, you actually release the ball over fingers that are facing the hitter. Depending on how much pressure you put on the ball, where the grip is tighter or looser and even how much you extend your arm at release, you get different kinds of spin and end up with big looping curves to hard, “power” curves to sliders that come in at one side of the plate and dive towards the other (anyone that’s seen Randy Johnson and his power slider in his hey day can attest to just how much movement a pitch like that can have).
The mechanics behind a good curve are just as critical as the grip and finger pressure. It’s hard enough making sure that your arm slot is always in the right place or that your weight shift is right. Now you have to make sure to stay “on top” of the ball. Since a curve goes up before it goes down, you have to use the fact that you’re on a raised mound to throw a curve downward, essentially. But this isn’t easy – as someone that had a big looping curve in high school, it’s more just “doing it” than feeling it. I shortened my stride a few inches and, for a curve, kept my arm in a bit (a slider, which is thrown with more velocity and breaks more sideways, is thrown with more extension) but otherwise just let it fly and let the spin do its thing. Making sure to always bring that stride in just a little bit, and to stay focused on every curve to stay on top of it is hard, and requires excellent mechanics from the beginning.
As a result, you get all kinds of terms. If you release the ball with your entire hand facing the batter, you get a “cement mixer” where the axis about which the ball rotates faces the hitter. It just spins sideways. This won’t break much because the friction is on the wrong sides of the ball. If you don’t stay on top, the ball will end up higher than you want. If you put the wrong amount of pressure on one finger or the other, or don’t quite get as good of a grip on the seems as you’d like, the break isn’t as much as you want or perhaps, if you’ve got a pretty good curve, it might not break in the right direction (I could vary my slider from about 5″ at the last minute thrown quite hard, to about 1.5′ starting earlier on thrown with a bit less velocity with more pressure on my index finger).
A curve is not easy to throw, in other words.
If one watches even a moderate amount of baseball, one will invariably see a hitter launch a long homerun off of a breaking ball. Often because of the reduced velocity of these pitches (even a slider, which is thrown pretty hard, is going to be a good 4-5mph slower than a fastball), it will look almost like the pitcher lobbed the ball in there and the hitter just nailed it. Almost always, the commentator says that it was a “hanging” breaking ball – one that just didn’t break as far as it should have, and the hitter could anticipate and time the movement.’
But saying that every curve that is hit hard is a “hanger” is simply unfair. There are in fact many reasons why a curve might get hit. And this is where my analogy begins…