How to Hit a Curveball
There's a good reason why pitchers throw a lot of curveballs; they're hard to hit. There are curveballs that start flat and break sharp and late. Then there are breaking pitches that loop in from behind the hitter and end up over the plate. To make matters worse, both of those pitches might come from the same pitcher, perhaps even during the same at bat.
Here are 3 tips for hitting curveballs:
#1: Get one you can hit:
We hear players say they can't hit curveballs all the time, and the first question we ask is:
"Are you swinging at ones you can actually hit?"
Pay attention to what the pitcher's breaking balls look like. If he's throwing a twelve-six that's breaking downward, then you'll want to lay off the pitch that starts down. See one up, wait until he hangs one that's not going to break sharply into the dirt just as it's getting to you. If it starts down it'll stay down, leave it alone.
If the pitcher is throwing what we would call more of a slurve, or even a slider, you'll want to lay off the pitch that starts middle-out, because it will break off the plate. Practice taking these pitcher's pitches in practice, and you'll get better at recognizing them in games. The first step to hitting a curve, is to wait until the pitcher throws one that you can actually hit.
#2: Control your load and stride:
Too many hitters are too fast and choppy with the load and stride, and don't get into a proper rhythm in their 'pre-swing'. They can get away with it if all the pitcher is throwing is fastballs with pretty good command, but in the world of hitting offspeed pitches, a short or uncontrolled load and stride will spell disaster.
Get into a good rhythm with the pitcher, and feel stable and solid in your lower half. You're not looking for a timing moment, you're looking for a timing zone. If you get too fast with your timing mechanisms and he throws something you don't expect, you'll almost always be too far out in front and either swinging over the ball or making weak contact.
#3: Get your barrel under the ball:
One of our favorite cues for infielders who are fielding a ground ball is: "Get your glove under the ball". It applies to the barrel when you're hitting curveballs too, you must get under the ball. When we're watching curveball rounds out of the machine in our cages almost all of the misses we see are from the barrel going over the ball.
The causes of this are two fold: First, your timing is probably too early as discussed earlier and you should work on staying more solid in your legs so you don't drift forward. As soon as the upper half gets tilted forward or the hands have gotten in front of the sequence, the bat path is ruined. Second, players are swinging where they see the ball and not where it's going to end up.
The Curveball is an Illusion
The curveball will drop more than you think, your eyes are deceiving you. The barrel of a bat is long so we can get away with inside/outside mistakes now and then, but it's not very big around so errors with up and down and costly. If you're having trouble hitting the curveball, try harder to get under it and let it come down to your barrel.
Here's another great tool for practicing off speed pitches in practice:
Hitting breaking balls takes practice
The three tips above can help you hit curveballs, but it takes a lot of reps to get it right. Players don't usually see enough quality breaking balls in practice to get them ready for the games, so make it a priority to see more if you can. If your machine can throw them, use it. If your coach can throw them (or your dad, or your buddy) ask them to do it. You need to see breaking balls a lot to learn what the difference is between the ones you can hit, and the ones you should leave alone.