Screwball Pitch: Mastering the Art of the Unpredictable

A screwball is a baseball pitch that breaks in the opposite direction of a slider or curveball, making it a rare and fascinating part of a pitcher’s arsenal. This pitch is known for its confusing and unpredictable movement, making it challenging for batters to hit.

Famous pitchers like Carl Hubbell have left their mark in baseball history by mastering the screwball.

A baseball flying with erratic spin and movement, creating a sense of unpredictability and challenge for the batter

Throwing a screwball requires a unique grip and arm motion, setting it apart from other pitches.

The ball’s path is influenced by the pitcher’s pronation and the precise spin they impart.

This combination produces a reverse spin that can leave batters swinging at air, wondering what just happened.

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Historical Overview

A baseball flying in a curving motion, spinning rapidly, as it travels towards the batter with a screwball pitch

The screwball pitch has an intriguing history with notable pitchers like Christy Mathewson and Carl Hubbell making it famous.

This pitch has seen its fair share of glorious moments and legendary players.

Origin and Evolution

The screwball has its roots in the early 20th century.

Christy Mathewson, a Hall of Famer, is often credited with introducing this pitch to Major League Baseball.

It was initially called “the fade” due to its unique fading motion.

As pitching techniques evolved, the screwball became known for breaking in the opposite direction of pitches like sliders and curveballs.

Carl Hubbell, another Hall of Famer, became famous for his screwball, earning the nickname “scroogie king.”

Eventually, the pitch not only became a weapon for confusing batters but also contributed to some pitchers’ extended careers.

Despite its efficiency, the screwball witnessed a decline in usage due to concerns about arm strain.

Notable Pitchers

Several pitchers have mastered the screwball, making them legends in the sport.

Christy Mathewson is often considered the pioneer, establishing the screwball as a credible pitch.

Carl Hubbell perfected the screwball and used it to great effect throughout his career with the New York Giants.

His prowess with the pitch helped him maintain an edge over his competitors and cement his legacy in baseball history.

Another standout screwball pitcher was Jim Brewer.

His mastery over the pitch earned him respect and accolades, including a spot on an All-Star team.

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Understanding the Screwball

A baseball spinning unpredictably mid-air, confusing batters

The screwball is a unique pitch in baseball that moves in the opposite direction of most other breaking balls.

This pitch can be highly effective when thrown correctly, but it requires precise technique and practice.

The Basic Mechanics

A screwball is a type of breaking pitch that tends to move away from an opposite-handed batter.

For instance, a right-handed pitcher’s screwball breaks away from a left-handed batter.

This distinct movement comes from the spin imparted on the ball during the release.

To achieve this spin, the pitcher must twist their wrist inward as they throw.

This motion creates a reverse spin compared to a curveball, which leads to the screwball’s unique break.

The pitch also travels at a slower speed, adding an element of surprise to the batter.

Grip and Release Techniques

The grip is crucial for throwing an effective screwball.

The pitcher holds the ball with both the index finger and the middle finger along the top of the seams.

The thumb rests underneath for stability.

To throw the screwball, the pitcher must rotate their wrist inward (toward the body) during the release.

This action causes the ball to spin in the opposite direction of a curveball, creating the screwball’s break.

Consistent practice is essential to perfect this release and achieve the desired movement.

Practicing with a partner can help pitchers get feedback on their technique.

Recording throws on video can also help analyze and correct release timing.

For those wanting to enhance their screwball, practicing with a lighter ball can help improve wrist flexibility and strength.

Common Misunderstandings

One common misunderstanding about the screwball is that it’s just a backwards curveball.

While they are both breaking pitches, the mechanics and results are different.

The screwball’s unique inward wrist twist and reverse spin set it apart.

Another misconception is that it causes significant strain on a pitcher’s arm.

While it does require a specific motion, proper technique can reduce the risk of injury.

Like any pitch, mastering the screwball safely involves understanding and respecting the mechanics.

Some believe the screwball is outdated or too difficult to master.

However, with dedication and the right guidance, pitchers can successfully add it to their repertoire.

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Comparison with Other Pitches

A baseball flying in a zigzag pattern, confusing batters

A screwball is unique in how it moves, breaking in the opposite direction of more common pitches like the fastball, curveball, and slider.

Understanding these differences is key for players and fans alike.

Screwball vs Fastball

A fastball is typically the fastest pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal.

It travels straight and hard, making it difficult for batters to react quickly.

On the other hand, a screwball is designed to break in the opposite direction.

For a right-handed pitcher, it moves left-to-right, which confuses batters used to the usual pitch movements.


  • Speed: High (90-100 mph)
  • Movement: Straight
  • Difficulty: Power and precision


  • Speed: Slower (70-80 mph)
  • Movement: Breaks left-to-right (for right-handed pitchers)
  • Difficulty: Grip and wrist action are crucial

The screwball’s unpredictable break can throw off a batter’s timing and swing more effectively than a straightforward fastball.

Screwball vs Curveball

A curveball is known for its downward and side-to-side break.

It’s slower than a fastball but can vary in speed.

The screwball, in contrast, breaks in the opposite direction of the curveball.

For a right-handed pitcher, a curveball breaks down and to the right, while a screwball moves down and to the left.


  • Speed: Moderate (65-85 mph)
  • Movement: Downward, some side-to-side
  • Difficulty: Spin and arm angle


  • Speed: Similar, can be slightly faster
  • Movement: Opposite direction, more side-to-side with downward motion
  • Difficulty: Requires different grip and arm twisting action

While both pitches rely on movement to deceive batters, the screwball’s break in the opposite direction adds an element of surprise.

Screwball vs Slider

A slider blends features of a fastball and a curveball, breaking late with a sharp sideways and downward motion.

The screwball, meanwhile, has a more consistent but opposite break.

For right-handed pitchers, while sliders break down and to the right, screwballs break down and to the left.


  • Speed: Between fastball and curveball (80-90 mph)
  • Movement: Sharp late break, side-to-side and down
  • Difficulty: Consistent release and grip


  • Speed: Slower than a slider
  • Movement: Gradual, opposite direction (left-to-right for right-handers)
  • Difficulty: Mastering the unusual grip and motion

The screwball’s unique movement makes it useful for surprising batters already familiar with more common pitches like sliders.

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Mastering the Pitch

A baseball spinning mid-air, twisting and curving unpredictably towards the batter

Mastering the screwball pitch involves refining your grip, perfecting your pitching mechanics, and understanding how to pitch effectively to both right-handed and left-handed batters.

Training and Practice

To master the screwball pitch, consistent training and practice are key.

Start with the proper grip.

Place your fingers on the seams of the ball in a way that will create the desired reverse curve.

This specific grip ensures the correct spin movement when the ball is released.

Practice the arm motion to generate the necessary spin.

Focus on pronating the wrist at the moment of release.

This twisting motion is essential for creating the screwball’s unique movement.

Use drills to improve your accuracy and form.

For example, practice hitting targets on the lower outside corner of the strike zone to master placement.

Monitoring arm health is equally important, as the screwball can be strenuous on the arm.

Pitching to Batters

When pitching to right-handed batters, aim the screwball low and away.

This makes it harder for them to make solid contact, causing them to swing and miss or hit weak grounders.

The screwball’s reverse curve can be very effective here.

Against left-handed batters, the approach differs slightly.

Target the inside part of the plate, making it challenging for them to pull the ball.

Pay attention to the batter’s stance and adjust accordingly.

Think strategically.

The screwball can be used to set up other pitches, making it a versatile weapon in a pitcher’s arsenal.

With practice and smart game planning, the screwball can become an effective out pitch.

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