Breaking Pitches/Breaking Balls
Breaking pitches (more commonly known as breaking balls) are pitches that, unlike fastballs, break from a straight path through the air. This means that they curve in a certain direction while in flight -- they can have an arced path, travel toward the ground, or curve to the left or right.
The Purpose Of A Breaking Ball
Their purpose is to trick batters. For example, at first a pitch may seem like it has a straight path, and the batter might swing at it. Then, when it is too late for the batter, the ball breaks directions and the batter misses the baseball.
Why Are Breaking Balls Effective?
Breaking balls are more difficult to hit than fastballs since their path is less predictable; however, they are also more prone to being balls since their path can cause them to miss the strikezone. They also tend to have lower velocities than fastballs. Breaking ball is also used as an umbrella term for more specific types of pitches.
Types Of Breaking Balls
There are few types of breaking pitches that we'll discuss:
Curveballs are a type of breaking ball that have a forward spin and typically break downward, which means they initially seem to have a straight path, then suddenly travel downward. However, some pitchers will add variants to this general principle. Curveballs are relatively slow, usually between 70-80 MPH in the Majors, but they have a high amount of movement compared to other pitch types.
Forkballs and Splitters
Forkballs are a rare type of breaking pitch. They are like an extreme form of curveballs in that they break downward, but their break is much more extreme and sudden. Throwing forkballs requires the pitcher to snap his wrist, which can be tiring and may cause injury, and contributes to why pitchers rarely (if ever) throw forkballs.
A much more common derivative of the forkball is the splitter. They are slightly slower than a fastball, usually between 80-90 MPH, and they break downward suddenly before reaching home plate. However, their break is not as extreme or sudden as a forkball, making them easier to throw and less susceptible to causing injury.
Sliders are similar to curveballs -- they tend to break downward, however, they typically have more lateral (left/right) movement and have higher velocities than curveballs. They also tend to have less movement than curveballs; that is, their break from a straight path is not as dramatic.
Backdoor Breaking Balls/Backdoor Sliders
Backdoor breaking balls (often called backdoor sliders, although the term can apply to either curveballs or sliders) operate in the opposite way. Their path is initially lateral, traveling away from the strikezone. The batter thinks it is a ball, and does not swing. Then, at the last second, the pitch curves in and travels through the corner of the strikezone, becoming a strike.