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Anatomy of the Power Breaking Pitches.

OVER THE YEARS, the sermon from the mound by our pitching gurus keeps changing in many little but often controversial ways.

Very little of it represents anything new. The changes are mostly in adaptations of basic pitches, like split-fingered fastballs, circle change-ups, cut fastballs, etc.

Our pitching coaches accept some of the changes, question others, and keep right on looking for something that will help them get the hitters out.

It bothers me that two of the breaking pitches I like very much are on the endangered species list. Perhaps because I had a pretty good one, I was always partial to my "Uncle Charlie," a pseudonym for the curve ball, bender, roundhouse, hook, and outcurve.

As thrown by a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed hitter, the pitch starts inside or over the plate and then curves outside and down to the outside corner.

From everything I see these days, this kind of old-fashioned breaking pitch is on a sabbatical. You just don't see it as much as you did prior to the 60's.

Its once intimidating cousin, "The Yellow Hammer," has practically vanished. It was the epitome of the sharp-breaking curve ball -- a pitch that broke suddenly and "fell off the table," its darting action resembling the Yellow Hammer bird diving for an insect.

What has taken their place in the pitching repertoire? The power slider and the cutter. They are good pitches, easier to learn and easier to get over for strikes.

But, given my druthers, I'd definitely choose Uncle Charlie or the Hammer. Unfortunately, the umpires are too prone to call them balls. And this has encouraged the hitters to take the pitch, forcing the pitchers to retire the pitch.

Take a look at the pros and cons of the traditional curve balls (Uncle Charlie and the Yellow Hammer), and compare them to the modern power slider on page 63.

You don't have much gray area on the rotation of Uncle Charlie. There is no compromise. The spin (rotation) must be 6-12 or 1-7. Much less than that and the pitch becomes a slurve, which isn't much of a pitch. If the elbow drops, you wind up with a flat curve, which isn't much of a pitch, either.

A slider, on the other hand, can become a cutter or a slurve without much commotion.

Over the years, the truly outstanding curve ball has gradually lost favor. We cannot say it has vanished because pitchers like David Wells, Daryl Kile, and Tom Gordon are still throwing outstanding Uncle Charlies. However, the new strike zone -- as invented by the major league umpires -- has given rise to a preponderance of short curves, hard curves, sliders, and cutters, which are easier to throw for strikes.

Anatomy of Power Sliders

What constitutes a great or even a good slider is a matter of opinion. Many pitchers like to call their poor curve balls, sliders. They are actually throwing slurves, which are of questionable effectiveness.

Some of these pitchers are able to throw a cut fastball, which can be effective but probably not as much as a slider.

A good slider should have the following requisites:

1. Looks like a fast ball until the very end.

2. Goes down somewhat.

3. Nearly as fast (within 5 mph) of a fastball.

4. Has extremely tight rotation.

5. Its rotation makes it appear that the end of the axis is in the middle of the ball.

6. Is thrown from the top of the ball. Meaning that the fingers are up on the ball, not on the side. (See Photos 1 and 2.)

7. Is delivered with a sharp karate-like chop with two (index and middle) fingers.

8. Elbow is kept high (above shoulder).

9. Wrist imparts extreme hand speed.

10. Arm follows through smoothly to finish.

Reading the Ball (Rotation)

Somewhere in the pitcher's learning process - high school, college, pitching camp, minor league - he should be exposed to the different kinds of rotation (spins) that can be placed on the baseball.

The rotation on the ball is produced by the manner in which the ball is gripped and then released.

The ball should be considered a clock with the top being 12 o'clock, the bottom 6 o'clock, and the sides 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. The axis of the ball generally goes through the 9 to 3 line.

Whenever the ball is given a tight rotation (fast spin), the end of the axis reveals itself as a red dot. The location of this red dot tells you pretty much what kind of pitch is being thrown. (The rotation is produced by the grip and wrist action.)

* A 6 to 12 spinning action will produce a straight drop.

* A 1 to 7 rotation will produce a sharp curve.

* The dot at 7 or 8 o'clock area will indicate a cut fastball.

* Dot at 5 o'clock, a slurve.

* Dot right in middle, a perfect slider.

* Dot at 3 o'clock, a drop.

* Dot at 4 o'clock, an outstanding curve.

Several of the pitfalls to avoid with the slider are throwing the ball like a dart or like a football, in slow motion or with slow rotation.

Throwing from the top also helps the ball go down a little and produces a slider with two dimensions--down and away (horizontal and vertical).

Actually, the slider rotation should resemble the spiraling action of a football or bullet, but the ball must be thrown from the top (not the side) to ensure velocity. Velocity is critical in order to deprive the hitter of decision time.

High sliders, sliders that do not break or have little break, are often hit hard. Bring that same pitch down a few inches and you are likely to wind up with an out pitch.

The slider can be hard on the arm. Thrown properly, meaning not overthrown but delivered with good mechanics, it can be a great pitch.

Conclusion: The slider is probably easier to learn than a curve and is easier to throw for a strike. If a pitcher does not have an overwhelming curve ball, a slider could be the pitch for him. For the pitcher who already has a decent curve ball, the slider can be his next pitch of decision.

Johnny Sain, one of the great pitching coaches of our time, always tried to sell the slider to his pitchers as "the extra pitch" that could round out their repertoire and make them a winner.

The Power Curve

The rotation of this pitch at the beginning should be 6 to 12. Later on it can be adjusted to 1-7 to 2-8. No allowance should be made for anything less. The direction of the spin is paramount.

The following steps on rotation and execution must be maintained:

1. Direction -- 6-12 (clockwise). See Photo 3.

2. Consistent break.

3. Constant attention to tightness (speed and amount of rotation).

4. Bite - suddenness (related to tightness).

5. Fingertip pressure (middle finger). See Photo 4.

6. Action of wrist, with thumb up. See Photo 5.

7. Elbow higher than shoulder.

8. Elbow leading forearm.

9. Entry through release point -- finger and thumb simulating a gun -- pointing to first base. See Photo 5.

10. Acceleration of arm.

11. Bringing arm to bottom of an imaginary circle and bury shoulder. See Photo 6.

A curve ball is ephemeral. If it isn't mastered properly, it may suddenly vanish as if it were never there. The mechanics may be worked on without a ball.

The Yellow Hammer is the ultimate curve ball. It is thrown hard and goes down suddenly - breaking laterally and down, making it difficult to hit but also difficult to throw for strikes. Exemplars: Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, and Steve Canton (of the older school).

Absolutes for the Hammer:

1. Extra action from the middle finger. See Photo 7.

2. Additional action from the thumb pushing up.

3. The third finger can assist in the motion.

4. Tremendous tightness to the spin.

5. Need great hand and wrist speed to make sure that ball bites hard.

6. Arm and hand come down over the release point with a lot of power.

7. Hand must follow through to bottom of pitching circle.

A true Yellow Hammer (power curve) is a thing of beauty and a work of art. It will enhance your fast ball in a way that the power slider cannot. But the real smart pitcher will master the rotation and develop both pitches and thus double the effectiveness of his repertoire.

Pros & Cons

POWER CURVE BALLS

PROS

1. Great two-dimensional break.

2. Easier on the arm.

3. Off-speed nature of pitch enables it to be used as a change-up.

4. Invites variations on angle and delivery.

5. When it goes down, it is extremely difficult to hit.

6. A good curve can enable you to get away with a pitch right over the plate.

CONS

1. Difficult to throw for strikes.

2. Early break may tip it off.

3. Catchers may have trouble handling it, especially when low.

4. Takes time to learn.

POWER SLIDER

PROS

1. Easy to learn.

2. Easy to throw for strikes.

3. More apt to be called a strike.

4. Its late break is hard to recognize.

CONS

1. Hard on arm.

2. Can't locate it up in the strike zone.

3. Most hitters have the bat speed to hit it.

4. Rotation won't always take.
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Article Details
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Author:Bagonzi, Dr. John A.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1566
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