MN Twins’ Pat Dean says potential injury isn’t the only reason to wait on throwing a curveball

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MN Twins pitcher, Pat Dean shares when he started throwing curve balls, as well as his experience learning how to pitch and his path to playing professional baseball

So this is a tricky question:  What age to start throwing a curveball?

Battle of the experts

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to list a few of the different theories I’ve heard most often on this topic:

  • View 1 – It’s unhealthy for young arms before a certain age.  It’s the reason doctors are doing a bazillion more arm surgeries than ten years ago.
  • View 2 – It’s not unhealthy for young arms if done properly.  The problem is most kids are over-tired and aren’t throwing with proper mechanics.
  • View 3 – It’s only how many pitches thrown that matters, not what kind of pitches.
  • View 4 – Even if it’s not harmful, being dependent on a curveball at a young age is bad for long term player development.

While there’s likely some truth in all of these, view # 4 is the one we’re going to talk more about below.

What science is telling us about age and pitching

View 1 is backed up by a major survey led by the New York Yankees head team physician Dr. Ahmad.  According to him, “It’s not enough to set pitch counts based on a player’s age,” he said. “While some 14-year-olds are already quite mature, in terms of their skeletal structure, others haven’t even started their growth spurt yet.” (source)

Several recent studies by Dr. Andrews, Glenn Fleisig, and Little League  appear to back up views 2 and 3, as they found no correlation between throwing a curveball and increased injury (source)

“There is no question… that too much throwing leads to injury, and often it’s serious injury.” – Glenn Fleisig, the research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute

Maybe health isn’t the only reason to wait on throwing a curveball

I find view 4 interesting, because these folks say even if throwing a curveball isn’t harmful to a player’s arm, it’s STILL a bad idea.

Hmmm very interesting.

These folks say that pitchers who really want to go the distance need to develop the feel, control and velocity of their fastball, which won’t happen if they become dependent on a curveball too early on.

It’s possible that a mediocre curveball can give a pitcher lots of success at levels where hitters haven’t learned to hit a curveball yet, but that is an advantage that will disappear as the player progresses through high school and college.

In the mean time, they’ve lost valuable time they could have spent developing their money-maker.

So which pitches SHOULD young baseball players focus on?

We asked MN Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson what pitch young pitchers should focus on.   Gibson’s exact words were, “I would say learn early how to throw a CH. Easy/safe off speed pitch throw at a young age! Gonna need it later too!”

And in our video today with MN Twin starting pitcher Pat Dean, he’ll discuss what age he started throwing a curveball, and how that affected his pro career.

Coaches, what do you think?   We love to your take on this issue.  Do you think there are reasons beyond health to wait on introducing the curve ball to a young pitcher’s arsenal?

What age to throw a curveball – Video Transcript

Video transcript: MN Twin's starting pitcher Pat Dean - What age did you start throwing a curveball?

Doug Bernier:

“Hey guys, Doug Bernier from ProBaseballInsider.com. Today we have a special treat. We are with starting pitcher Pat Dean.

He is in the Minnesota Twins organization. I have been playing behind him this season; incredible pitcher, incredible guy and he’s got a few tips for us that we want to talk about.”

What age did you start using a curve ball?

Pat Dean:

“I really started using a curve ball once I got into high school Growing up, my dad’s main focus with me was to locate my fast ball.

One of the biggest things as a pitcher, is to be able to locate your fast ball because no matter what age you are at, if you can locate your fast ball that’s going to get you a long way.

As I started getting older and seeing some older guys, that’s when my dad and some coaches started working with me on my change up and my curve ball.

But really, more towards high school is when I started throwing a curve ball.”

Doug Bernier:

“Well that’s good because you see a lot of young pitchers in little league, sometimes even 8 or 9 years old throwing curve balls.

It seems like that would be a lot of extra stress on the elbow or the arm. So it’s kind of nice to hear of pitchers waiting a little bit to save some bullets I guess, you know?”

Pat Dean:

“Yea exactly, and like I said, and I’m sure you can agree as a hitter, a well located fast ball can go a long way. You don’t really need to start messing around with all of those other pitches that you see the guys in the big leagues throwing.

If you can locate a fast ball, you can do a lot of damage as a pitcher.”

What pitches do you throw now?

Pat Dean:

“Right now I throw a 4 seam and 2 seam fast ball, curve ball, slider and change-up.”

Next Video from Pat Dean:  Proper pitch grips for 2 seam fastball, 4 seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup

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About Author

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins' AAA team in Rochester, NY

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