The Proper Keys to Hitting the Curveball (Part 2 of 3)

By Dave Hudgens, New York Mets Hitting Coach

Here are the vital tools for success against the curveball:

Early recognition.
Note that the better a pitcher’s curveball is, the tougher it is to recognize. The harder a curveball is, the less you’ll see the trajectory of the ball pop up out of the hand. The harder a pitcher throws a curveball, the more difficult it is for him to control.

Get a good one to hit.
Look for the 12/6 rotation of the seams just after release. A pitcher will slow his arm down on a poor curveball and his delivery will change.You must keep your hands and body back; your weight should stay back at least 70%. If you commit your hands early, you will have no chance to have success with this pitch. That is why early recognition is so important.

The pitcher wants you to swing at the curveball that starts in the zone and breaks out of the zone. It is no secret that most hitters get themselves out on curveballs that are out of the strike zone. Pitchers have success when the curveball breaks late, and this pitch is a very difficult pitch to lay off, especially with two strikes. Again that is why preparation and knowing what type of breaking ball a pitcher has is so important. If you know you can’t hit someone’s curveball, don’t swing at it until you get two strikes.

If you find yourself out on your front foot, or pushing forward, don’t swing! The only time you want to swing when your weight is forward is if you have two strikes and you are trying to battle. The reason you don’t want to swing from this position is that when your hands are forward, your weight is forward and this is a poor position from which to hit.

A curveball that starts at the knees or slightly above will generally break down and out of the strike zone. The curveball that starts a little bit high will generally break into the strike zone. It is critical that you don’t go up to hit the breaking ball, but allow the breaking ball to come down to you. That is why it is so important to know what type of break each pitch has, and what kind of command the pitcher has of these pitches.

It is also important when you are facing the same side pitcher that your approach is to the opposite field gap.
This will keep your front side in, which is critical to having any success with this pitch. If the ball does hang inside, get the bat head out and pull it – don’t try to guide the ball to the opposite field. When we talk about your approach being to the opposite field, that doesn’t mean you are going to hit everything to the opposite field. A hanging curveball is one of the easiest pitches to hit. This is a pitch you can really do some damage with.

You can look for the fastball and still hit the curveball – all good hitters are able to do this. But it is almost impossible to look for a curveball and hit a fastball. If you are at the level to where you can sit on a curveball, and by that I mean looking for nothing but the curveball, remember mechanically now you can get into the position of power a little bit later. Many hitters look for the fastball and adjust to the off-speed pitch. Usually you get started back early and easy. If you are sitting on a curve ball you are going to get started back a little bit later. You want the curveball to come to you. You don’t want to go out to get it!

It is very important that you wait for the curveball to come down to you.
The curveball that starts up and out of the strike zone breaks down into the strike zone. You must make sure to keep your body down. If you go up to hit the ball, and it breaks down, you will not be a successful off-speed hitter. As a hitter you not only want the curveball to come down to you, you also want to stay down and wait for the ball to come to you.

Another key to hitting the curveball is what I call hesitation.
As a hitter, you should feel some sort of hesitation after your stride foot comes down. You have to find a way to keep your hands and the majority of your weight back. So what happens when the pitcher throws you a curveball and it is a hittable curveball? The feeling you should have is one of hesitation.

Next: Five Curveball Drills

Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Hitting Coach for the New York Mets. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.

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