The screwball is a popular pitch, but it’s not without its downsides.
Overcoming these pitfalls is critical to throwing an effective screwball.
Pitches come and go in popularity and there’s no doubt the most popular pitch right now is the screwball. Not because it’s the “best pitch”, or even an easy pitch, but because people are pack animals. We move in packs and often think in packs – and right now the pack is thinking screwball.
But, I’ve never been a pack person so I like to really think about what’s popular and figure out if it’s popular because it’s really good, or just popular because, well, it’s popular.
In the case of the screwball, I think it’s popular because it’s popular. As pitches go, this one has 3 major downsides, and only 1 or 2 upsides. So let’s look at these pitfalls in greater detail.
- Pitfalls of the Screwball:
- Hard on Your Arm – In order to throw the screwball the pitcher will lead with her thumb into the release, and then turn her thumb away from her body as she twists her hand, causing the ball to spin to the right for a right-handed pitcher and to the left for a left-handed pitcher. This extreme hand position at release means the pitcher must turn her palm completely opposite of the way her palm spends its life – facing her body. In order to make this extreme release position happen, the pitcher must keep her chest facing her hand during release, instead of turning it toward home plate – which is the mistake most pitchers make. Our hands tend to follow our chest which means when a pitcher, trying to throw a screwball, turns her chest toward homeplate, her hand will also move toward homeplate – causing the screwball to become a meatball. Forcing your palm to turn outward, away from your body, during a motion as ballistic as releasing a pitch over and over again, is not good for your arm. That’s one reason so many young pitchers have arm problems.
- Not Much Room to Throw It – Every movement pitch only needs to move a couple inches and here’s where most screwball pitchers really get themselves into trouble. Since most people are right handed (I said most, not all) that means most pitchers are throwing to right handed hitters. And in the case of a screwball, it means that you’ve only got about 2 inches of movement before the ball hits the batter. Most pitchers (righties) know this and that’s why they throw the pitch with a lot of movement during practice (where there’s usually no batter) and with almost no movement during games. Either way, as the diagram with the 3 colored arrows shows, there’s 3 things that can happen when this pitch is thrown and 2 of them are bad. That just seems like too little margin of error for most pitchers. I will say that if you can throw it lower and make it move in and drop like Stacey Nelson from Florida did a few years ago – then you have more room to make it move. Since the batter’s elbow is closer to the plate than any other body part, throwing the screwball high makes it more likely you’ll hit her elbow. But, if you can throw it low then you have an extra inch or 2 before you run into her knee.
- Not Surprising Anymore – Since everybody throws this pitch now it’s not surprising anyone. It isn’t so much that pitchers love throwing this pitch, but for some reason people calling pitches seem to LOVE calling this pitch – and they call it a lot! So, any surprise element is completely lost when a pitch is called over and over. What would make it surprise would be to use it sparingly to attack that part of the plate once-in-a-while. Use it as a set-up pitch instead of as a go-to.
If you’re going to continue calling or throwing this pitch then it’s important your pitchers get better at it. The biggest thing they need to do is practice more realistically with it. Stack up crates on top of each other and place them in the batter’s box and then have your pitcher practice screwballs. This will really help her see just how spot-on she must be with her movement to avoid hitting the crates or leaving the pitch too fat over the plate.
For more help improving your screwball, and the way you use it, check out the following: