Ahead in the Count

The Question of Curveballs

written by Ted Sullivan

Tim Lincecum. Nasty curveball.

Tim Lincecum throws one of MLB's best curveballs.

As a youth baseball coach I’m often asked if curveballs hurt young arms.

In the youth sports ecosystem it’s become almost an accepted fact that curveballs are bad for the arms of young pitchers. Recently Mark Hyman wrote a piece for the NY Times explaining that recent studies have contradicted these long-held opinions.

I’m not a doctor and  have no evidence to support or refute these findings.

What I do believe is that young arms (and any arms for that matter) are hurt by the following:

  1. Poor / inefficient / overly violent mechanics — on all pitches, but especially breaking balls.
  2. Overuse — but only when compared to what an arm is in shape to throw. Like any other athletic activity, if you aren’t in shape it is damaging to push to extremes. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training and therefore shouldn’t throw 100 pitches in a game unless you have built up the arm, leg and core body strength to do so.
  3. Lack of care after throwing (stretch, ice, rest, etc) and
  4. Lack of care and preparation in the days and hours before pitching (off-day workouts, pre-game warm up, etc.)

I don’t teach young pitchers to throw curveballs because it’s possible that these pitches hurt young arms. But the primary reason I don’t teach these pitches is that pitchers will quickly get addicted to them. Young batters have a hard time hitting anything that breaks — even poorly thrown curveballs. So young pitchers (and more likely coaches who are calling pitches — an issue worthy of another blog post) tend to rely too much on breaking pitches. This keeps young players from developing their fastball which is the foundation of any good pitcher’s repertoire.

August 3, 2009 - Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. T
    The curve ball is not the devil. BAD MECHANICS regardless of what the kid throws is the damage. The motion of pitching is unnatural and no matter what grip the kid uses, if the motion is bad, bad things can happen. Every top tournament we go to is loaded with 12U flame throwers who mix in some nasty benders. You have to to be successful. What I’ve seen is that at the elite youth level, the top hitters will put wood on 70mph fast balls. The best young pitchers are the kids who can locate and alternate in and away and up and down. They can out think the hitter and are therefore successful with or without the breaking ball. That said, I find that kids who only rotate 4-2 Change at the travel level find themselves with a pretty busy outfield. At 13, they should have some command of at least one breaking ball and even more importantly, know when to throw it.

    Comment by Damien Gray | August 3, 2009

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