Breaking Pitches

The primary breaking pitches in fastpitch softball are the drop ball, rise ball, curveball and screwball. Breaking pitches are accomplished by spinning the ball at the correct angle to get an air pressure difference causing the ball to move from the high pressure side toward the low pressure side. The grips used are many and varied. You should experiment with grips until you have one that imparts the most spin at the best angle.

I have come across pitchers that say they have 4 or more breaking pitches. When watching them pitch, I’ve seen the ball always rotate in the same direction at the same angle. The pitcher was using a different grip for each pitch and therefore thought she was throwing various breaking pitches when, in reality, none of her pitches were breaking. After the ball leaves the pitchers hand, the only thing that has an impact on ball movement is the number of rotations, the direction of the rotation and the angle of rotation.

The angle of the ball rotation has a large impact on the amount of movement you will get. The best angle is 90° as shown in the “perfect angle for a riseball”.If you can achieve the perfect angle, you can expect about 1″ (inch) of movement for every rotation. For example, 4 rotations will result in a 4″ rise, 5 rotations equal 5 inches, etc.

Perfect angle for a riseball
as seen by the catcher

The worst angle is 0° or the bullet spin. There is NO movement in any direction with the bullet spin regardless of the number of rotations. This angle of spin results in the easiest pitches for the batter to hit.

Bullet Spin

For most of the breaking pitches, it is almost impossible to achieve the perfect 90° angle. Typically, you can achieve a 70° or 80° angle which is good. The further from 90° you get, the less movement you get so pay close attention to the angle when developing the pitch. The amount of ball movement is reduced by the cosine of the angle.

Typical Riseball
as seen by the catcher

The following table shows that you lose 1/2 of your movement when your angle is about 1/3 off from 90 degrees. You lose 70% of your movement when your angle is half way between the perfect spin and the bullet spin. Pay attention to angle.

Rotation Angle Cosine Loss Potential Movement
90° Almost 0 7″ (full movement)
80° 0.173648178 5.8″
70° 0.342020143 4.6″
60° 0.5 3.5″ (losing 1/2 the movement)
50° 0.64278761 2.5″
(1/2 way between 0° and 90°)
0.707106781 2.05″

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