Being Successful With Your Off-Speed Pitches - By: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS
With season in full swing, you may have discovered a few things that you could improve on. One of these might be your off-speed pitches. Whether it is your curveball, slider, change-up, or split finger, I believe some of the tips I learned while playing could help you with your arsenal of off-speed pitches.
The first thing I tried to do with my curveball and change-up was to have the same or similar grip compared to my fastball. For me, I could throw my fastball and change-up with the exact same grip (I struggled mastering this with my curveball). This meant I spent less time fumbling with the ball in my glove to get the grip necessary for the pitch. I learned this from a former teammate who was drafted several times and ultimately pitched in the Big Leagues. He was able to throw his fastball(two seam and four seam), slider, and change-up with the exact same grip. It allowed him to focus only on his wrist placement and executing the pitch (not whether his grip for that pitch was just right). This made complete sense to me because it eliminated any concern about tipping pitches or getting that “perfect” feel for the pitch. Why wouldn’t you want to have less to worry about?
The second thing that helped me establish the most consistent spin with my curveball while keeping my arm healthy was “pre-setting” the pitch. This meant my curveball would be set into supination (palm facing toward the body) or for my change-up it would be set into pronation (palm facing away from the body). I would have that position set in my glove, and it would not change during the delivery. I did not try to manipulate spin by trying to snap the curveball or “break it off”. By presetting the position, it allowed me to get consistent spin which enabled me to better control the pitch, and there was not the added stress of late rotation of the wrist which would have put more force on the elbow.
In addition to the above, every time I threw an off-speed pitch my focus was to throw it as hard as I possibly could. This allowed me to get more spin for tighter later movement, and by throwing the pitch with the same arm speed the hitter could not recognize that it was an off-speed pitch. Too often pitchers slow their arm speed and/or delivery when throwing off-speed pitches which is a dead give a way to the hitter that something other than a fastball was coming. Ultimately, I wanted the same intent on a breaking ball or a change-up as I had with my fastball.
Last, I used tools to help me create additional spin and to learn how to use the spin to command the pitch. I specifically used two tools. The first were weighted balls. I would use the Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, which don't have seams, to try to create spin. I found that after creating spin on a NON-SEAMED ball, I was able to create a lot more spin with a seamed baseball. Also, the weight of the balls made it easier for me to simulate intent, but my arm speed was still slow enough to work on the release. The second implement I used was two baseballs taped together on top of each other. I would throw this to see the axis of the rotation. If you do not know what axis of rotation is on your pitch, it is incredibly hard to predict where it will end up. I knew if I had more of a 12-6 rotation that day, I would need to aim higher and directly above the mitt. If it was more of a 1-7 movement than I would adjust and aim above and to the left of the glove (I am left-handed). This was crucial for my control. Although it was not around when I played, I would have also implemented the Baseball Training Sock. The Baseball Training Sock allows you to throw your off-speed inside the sock. You cannot see where the ball would end up, so it would have promoted more feel of the release for me. I was a little inconsistent on the feel of my breaking ball from game to game, but I truly believe this implement would have made me much more consistent.
I hope you are able to take one or more of my experiences training for off-speed pitches and implement it into your training. At the end of the day, I tried to find the simplest way to train and improve my off-speed pitches, and I hope you do the same. There is so much importance put on the fastball for good reason, but having two or three plus pitches is better than one.
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