Baseball Screwball (SC)
A pitch commonly seen in baseball’s early, pre-World Wars days, the screwball is a highly effective pitch to throw. Within the already unique breaking ball family of pitches, screwballs have perhaps the most distinctive spin and movement pattern of any baseball pitch. Unfortunately, the strain this pitch puts on arms has forced screwballers to grow fewer and farther between. Read on to learn about how screwballs move, how to achieve that ball movement, and a brief history of this fascinating pitch.
The screwball is an increasingly rare baseball pitch with unique movement. Screwballs can easily confound batters, as they are similar to the much more popular breaking pitches of curveballs and sliders. However, instead of moving at the angle of the pitcher’s arm like a slider or a curveball, they suddenly move in the opposite direction, leaving the batter whiffing at the air in a best-case scenario. These pitches put a unique strain on pitching arms, though, the primary reason screwballs are seen less and less these days.
How to Throw a Screwball
To throw a screwball, place your thumb and index finger at the top of the baseball’s red seams. Your middle finger should be placed close to your index finger, tightly pressing down on a white place on the ball between the seams.
Perhaps more key to throwing a proper screwball than grip is the arm angle. Your arm placement should be at least 45 degrees higher for this pitch than any typical windup to allow the ball space to break. Additionally, your palm should be facing outward as you throw.
In the case of most pitches, your hand and wrist will be faced towards your body upon release of a pitch. In the case of the screwball, however, both your hand and wrist should snap away from your body, allowing the pitch to make its “backward” movement.
There are no direct spin-offs of this already odd pitch, but some might instead consider screwballs as a variation of a curveball or a slider. The goal and movement of sliders and curveballs are quite similar to screwballs. However, screwballs move in the opposite direction of these pitches.
Screwballs belong to the breaking ball family of baseball pitches, meaning that the pitcher makes use of a snap in their wrist upon release and that the goal of the pitch is to create an intense amount of spin on the ball.
History of the Screwball
Like many baseball pitches, the screwball's true origins are difficult to identify, and the pitch most likely began as an accident. Still, many attribute San Francisco Giant and Cincinnati Red pitcher Christy Mathewson as the “Father of the Screwball.” Mathewson’s use of the unique pitch led him to 2,502 strikeouts, a pitching Triple Crown, and a 1936 Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction. Even if Mathewson was not the first to throw this pitch, his mastery of it keeps his name alive in baseball history books.
Best Screwball Pitchers
Here are some of the best pitchers in MLB history at throwing the screwball:
- Carl Hubbell
- Christy Mathewson
- Fernando Valenzuela
- Jim Brewer
- Tug McGraw
- Warren Spahn
What is a screwball in baseball?
A screwball is a breaking pitch with unique spin and movement. Rather than breaking in the typical direction of the pitcher’s arm angle, a screwball breaks “backward,” or in the opposite direction, when it gets to the plate. These pitches move similarly to sliders and curveballs in that they make a quick downward motion, but again, it’s important to note that the screwball lands on the opposite side of the plate. This makes the screwball stand out amongst all other pitches and a great option to throw a batter off their toes.
How is the screwball thrown in baseball?
A screwball is thrown by placing the thumb and index finger at the top of the ball’s seams, with a middle finger close by in the white area, securing the ball in the pitcher’s hand. Most importantly, a high windup and arm angle are required to throw this pitch. The pitcher must snap their wrist and face their palm away from their body to achieve the goal of the opposite breaking movement. This unique arm movement can be exhausting for pitchers, which is the primary reason why screwballs have all but died out in Major League Baseball.