I probably receive this question as much as any other.
I am firm in my beliefs about the curve ball and most seem to agree that a curve ball should not be thrown because it can hurt the arm.
That’s not my reasoning and I will get to that in a minute.
Several studies advise against throwing the curve ball. Not this one. The following is an excerpt taken from “Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers : A 10-Year Prospective Study,” Glenn S. Fleisig, James R. Andrews, et al., Am. J. Sports Med. (2011):
The relationship between pitch types (particularly curveballs) and injuries in young baseball pitchers is less clear and more controversial. Sports medicine experts have been warning since the 1970s that throwing curveballs at a young age can lead to elbow injury.1,2,17 The theory is that more stress is exerted about the elbow when throwing a curveball than when throwing a fastball and that the skeletally immature elbow of a youth pitcher cannot withstand the higher stress. A 1996 survey by USA Baseball supported this longstanding belief, showing that experts recommend that the curveball be learned at 14 6 2 years old.1,15 Lyman et al11 did find associations between breaking pitches and arm pain; however, it was (unexpectedly) the slider that correlated with increased risk of elbow pain and the curveball that correlated with increased risk of shoulder pain. Three biomechanical studies subsequently investigated whether a curveball is more stressful to the elbow than a fastball. A study of college pitchers showed no difference in elbow varus torque between the curveball and fastball.4 The other 2 studies showed less elbow varus torque in the curveball than in the fastball in high school pitchers and youth pitchers.3,13 All 3 biomechanical studies showed the least varus torque in the changeup. In the retrospective study by Olsen et al,14 pitchers were asked questions about when and how often they had thrown curveballs. There was no difference in the percentage of breaking pitches thrown during their most recent season (approximately 25% of pitches thrown) nor in the age they began throwing breaking pitches (approximately 13 years old).
Thus, the true risk of serious injuries to youth baseball pitchers is unknown, and the risk factors leading to these injuries are unproven.
Well if it hasn’t been proven to increase the likelihood of injury, what’s the problem?
Pitcher’s never learn the importance of the fast ball and how to use it. They never develop:
- Location & Feel
- Speed changes
And most importantly, CONFIDENCE IN THROWING THE FAST BALL!
While recruiting, it’s common place to see high school pitchers that are 13-2 or 12-0 and have no chance of pitching at the college level. They are prime examples of pitchers developing a dependency on the curve ball.
Their thought process becomes to show the fastball and use the curve ball. Basically, the curve ball is their #1 and the fast ball is #2. As you can probably guess, both their command and velocity end up being below average. I don’t know, but I have to think these guys learned a curve ball at an early age, experienced success, and it was down hill from there.
Every curve ball thrown by a young pitcher equals one less fast ball. Pitcher’s that throw more curve balls will develop a curve ball, pitchers that throw fast balls will develop a fast ball. You choose.
If you watch enough baseball, you will find there’s a lot of hitters that struggle with breaking balls. It’s evident at all levels, even more evident with younger age groups. Therefore, the pitcher achieves instant success. And let’s face it, it’s pretty cool being able to make the ball “curve”.
The youth pitcher’s intent becomes more focused on a better curve ball.
He doesn’t try to throw the ball harder very frequently and in doing so, drastically decreases his chances of learning to throw the ball harder.
Meanwhile, he becomes dependent on the curve ball for success. The curve ball becomes a part of his repertoire and trickles into his everyday routine. He he doesn’t learn the importance of pitching off the fastball. The pitcher doesn’t have to worry about throwing the fastball for a strike, he can do that with the curve ball and besides if it isn’t a strike, they will swing anyways. The development process is stunted! The next step in the process, wait until he fails!
Most players aren’t willing to make a change if they are experiencing success with what they already do.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Because most of the mechanics and movement patterns are formed in our earlier years. The older we become, the harder it is to change or alter these patterns. Everything you do is a pattern and throwing a curve ball creates patterns to benefit the curve ball. The same is true for the fast ball.
So the problem isn’t necessary the risk for injury but the risk of slowing the development process.
If it is more important for 10 yrs old to be the highlight of his career, then throw the curve ball. If not, developing the fastball should be the top priority for all youth pitchers and youth leagues.
Why is there such an urgency for the curve ball and instant rewards? Travel ball! It seems there is a need to win right now in the world of travel ball and the development process is secondary at best. It’s all about winning. The pitcher wants to make the team, he wants to WIN and believes the curve ball will be the answer. Personally, I think the breaking ball is an easy pitch to learn so why rush it now?
Take winning out of the equation and place development first.
The youth pitcher should learn:
1. The fastball is the most important pitch in baseball.
4. The first off-speed learned should be a secondary fastball.
5. Learn to pitch off your fastball at an early age and you will be a step ahead of the competition into the high school years and beyond.
The curveball is a very easy pitch to teach and there should be no rush to learn. Take winning out of the equation if it means having to throw the curveball. Teach the pitcher the importance of throwing the fastball and the importance of the intent to try and throw it harder. Sooner or later, he will be evaluated by his fastball if his plans are to pitch above the High School level.
Right or wrong, the radar gun plays a big part in the way pitchers are evaluated and recruited.
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P.S.S: Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on the breaking ball. What have you heard about “When” a pitcher should begin throwing the breaking ball? When they begin shaving? This should be interesting.