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?
“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?
“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.”
“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?”
“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?
“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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- Garret Richards with 4 tips for Throwing a Curveball
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I agree with the previous Coach on the importance of developing the fastball/CH for location, and see it as compatible with developing a good CB. Arm health is paramount and if taught properly i.e., not “turning the knob” the CB is biomechanically safer than the FB in terms of injury. Like the CH, the CB will take time to develop and then employ effectively e.g., putting it in the dirt vs. throwing it for a called strike. My take: emphasize the development of FB location at the same time as bringing along the CH and CB.
I am a youth baseball coach and have always been a pitcher And first basemen. At 42 years young I still play competitive hardball and still to this day pitch. I was taught a very important rule as a child from my coach and it has always stuck with me and I use it to this day with my son and my players.
I was taught that you can not throw a curveball until you master the fastball and change up. That being said this was the rule my coach used. You need to master the fastball 2seam and 4seam by hitting all the 9 spots in the strike zone. From there if you can do the same with the change up then you were ready after actually hitting all 27 spots my coach called out 3 pitches in sequence and if you didn’t hit the spots in that exact location you had to try again. By the time I hit all the spots and then his 3 called pitches and locations I only did it 4 times ever In succession he would sayI had too many pitches for that day and today’s not your day to learn the curveball. I was never disappointed because what it taught me was this: it’s very hard to throw a fastball and a change up with great control but it sure does take a lot of practice!!! He finally taught me at 16 yrs old. With this new mindset and confidence on the mound knowing I could locate these pitches I learned that the curveball was a great mix up pitch, but because I was so in control of my fastball and change up I didn’t really need it. It’s then when it all clicked my fastball was the center of my pitching arsenal everything else was just a bonus. He knew what he was doing because I led the league in strikeouts and I won every game the next two seasons. Now I throw the curve quite a bit but still always rely on the placed fastball and change up!!! My little leaguers try every practice to hit the spots but they have a long way to go.
Thanks Coach Gursky