How to Throw a Screwball Pitch: Master the Grip, Technique, and Strategy to Outsmart Hitters

Pat Bloom

How to Throw a Screwball Pitch

The screwball has baffled hitters and fascinated baseball enthusiasts for over a century. When Christy Mathewson first introduced it, many couldn’t even identify what they were seeing.

The pitch’s unique movement, which fades away from hitters, stands in stark contrast to the familiar slider or curveball.

Despite its mystique, the screwball has become a rarity in modern baseball, largely due to concerns about its impact on pitchers’ UCLs.

However, with the right technique and understanding, you can master this elusive pitch. Dive into the mechanics and nuances of throwing a screwball, and discover how to add this intriguing weapon to your pitching arsenal.

The Screwball Pitch in Baseball

The screwball pitch is a fascinating technique in baseball, known for its deceptive movement and uncommon delivery.

Here are some key points about the screwball pitch:

What Is a Screwball?

A screwball is a baseball pitch that behaves unlike other breaking pitches. It’s designed to break in the opposite direction of a slider or curveball.

For right-handed pitchers, the screwball veers left-to-right from the pitcher’s perspective, moving down and in on a right-handed batter. This distinct movement is due to the screwball’s unique grip and release technique.

Thrown with pronation of the forearm, the pitch can also exhibit a sinking action depending on the pitcher’s arm angle. This pronation helps protect the ulnar collateral ligament, contrary to the common belief that the screwball is harmful.

History and Famous Screwball Pitchers

The screwball has a rich history in baseball. Christy Mathewson, a Hall of Famer, introduced the pitch, initially termed “fade” for its fading motion away from hitters.

The screwball’s legacy continued with pitchers like Carl Hubbell, who earned the nickname “scroogie king” for his mastery.

Tug McGraw, another notable screwball pitcher, also found success with the pitch. More recently, Hector Santiago demonstrated the screwball’s viability in modern baseball.

Despite its scarcity today, the pitch remains a testament to baseball’s evolving techniques, promising success for those who can master it.

How to Throw a Screwball Pitch

Throwing a screwball pitch in baseball requires precise mechanics and practice to achieve the desired movement.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to throw a screwball:

Mastering the Grip

To throw a screwball, mastering the grip is crucial. Hold the ball with your index and middle fingers close together, positioned on one of the seams.

Your thumb should rest on the opposite seam, providing stability. This setup creates the unique spin required for the pitch’s distinctive movement.

A firm grip ensures control, while slight finger adjustments can fine-tune the screwball’s action. Practicing this grip will build muscle memory, allowing you to consistently replicate the same motion.

The Correct Arm Motion

The correct arm motion for a screwball involves full pronation. As you release the ball, turn your palm outward, allowing your thumb to point down.

This pronation generates the left-to-right movement that defines a screwball. Maintain a fastball arm speed to deceive hitters.

Consistent arm action is vital, as any deviations can lead to unpredictable movement and reduced effectiveness. Observing experienced pitchers like Hector Santiago can provide visual references for proper technique.

Practice Drills

Incorporate specific practice drills to master the screwball. Start with grip-focused drills, like holding and releasing the ball without throwing it, to build familiarity.

Move to dry throws, where you practice the arm motion without a ball, emphasizing pronation. Begin actual throws at short distances, gradually increasing as you gain confidence.

Analyze video recordings of your throws to identify areas needing improvement. Consistent practice and incremental adjustments will refine your screwball, enhancing its reliability and effectiveness.

Common Mistakes and Corrections

When learning to throw a screwball pitch in baseball, several common mistakes can hinder its effectiveness.

Here are some typical errors pitchers make when attempting a screwball and how to correct them:

Analyzing Poor Technique

Improper Grip: Holding the ball incorrectly can disrupt the screwball’s intended spin. Ensure fingers are positioned to allow the ball to roll off with the correct pronation.

Incomplete Pronation: Inconsistent arm motion reduces effectiveness. Make sure the arm fully pronates upon release, protecting the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament and generating the necessary screwball action.

Weak Arm Speed: Slow arm speed diminishes pitch deception. Maintain fastball-like arm speed to ensure the pitch retains its surprise element and moves as intended.

Tips for Consistency and Accuracy

Achieving consistency and accuracy with the screwball pitch in baseball requires attention to detail and deliberate practice.

Here are some tips to help you improve these aspects of your pitching:

Grip and Mechanics

Mastering the grip is essential for consistency in the screwball pitch. Ensure your index and middle fingers are positioned slightly off-center towards the inside of the ball, with a firmer grip compared to your thumb.

This grip allows you to generate the necessary spin for the screwball. Focus on a smooth wrist snap and forearm twist during your delivery to impart the desired movement on the ball.

Practice Techniques

Effective practice techniques are crucial for developing consistency and accuracy with the screwball. Start with basic drills that emphasize grip and release, gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you gain confidence.

Incorporate target practice into your sessions, aiming for specific spots within the strike zone to improve command and precision.

Mental Preparation

The mental aspect of pitching cannot be overlooked. Before each pitch, visualize yourself executing the screwball perfectly, focusing on the movement and location.

Maintain a composed mindset on the mound, staying relaxed yet focused on executing your pitches with precision.

Adjustments and Feedback

Regularly seek feedback from coaches or experienced teammates on your grip, mechanics, and pitch location.

Utilize video analysis to identify any inconsistencies or areas for improvement in your delivery. Adjust your technique based on feedback to enhance your consistency and accuracy over time.

Physical Conditioning

Maintain optimal arm strength and flexibility through conditioning exercises and a consistent stretching routine.

A strong and flexible arm reduces the risk of injury and supports consistent pitching mechanics throughout a game or season.

Game Situations

Simulate game-like scenarios during practice to replicate the pressure and focus required in real-game situations.

Practice pitching with runners on base or facing different types of hitters to develop the mental toughness and adaptability needed to perform consistently in competitive situations.

The Effects of a Screwball Pitch

The screwball pitch in baseball has several notable effects on both pitchers and hitters, influencing the dynamics of the game in various ways:

How It Affects Batters

A screwball pitch tends to bewilder batters due to its unique movement. Unlike a curveball that breaks down and away from a right-handed batter, a screwball breaks inward.

This movement disrupts the timing and balance of hitters. For example, left-handed batters find the inside break challenging to handle, often resulting in weak contact or swings and misses.

Horizontal break results from the pronation of the forearm. Pronating helps protect the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament, ensuring longer-term resilience.

According to an experiment reported by the New York Times, a screwball stresses the elbow similarly to a fastball, debunking the myth that it’s inherently more dangerous for pitchers.

Strategic Use in Games

Strategic use of a screwball pitch can elevate your pitching game. When combined with pitches like the curveball and slider, the screwball’s horizontal movement complements the vertical drop of the other pitches. This combination can keep hitters off-balance, effectively disrupting their expectations.

Using a screwball in tight situations can be particularly effective. For example, with two strikes, a well-placed screwball can exploit a batter’s weaknesses.

Additionally, employing it as a surprise pitch can enhance its effectiveness, especially when previously relying on fastballs and sliders.

This unpredictability makes it harder for hitters to anticipate and adjust, leading to more strikeouts and weaker contact.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who invented the screwball pitch?

Christy Mathewson is widely credited with inventing the screwball pitch. His unique left-to-right movement baffled hitters and set the standard for future pitchers.

What makes the screwball challenging for hitters?

The screwball has a left-to-right movement that disrupts hitters’ timing and balance, making it hard for them to make solid contact.

How important is grip for an effective screwball pitch?

Grip is crucial for an effective screwball pitch. A proper grip ensures the ball has the correct spin and movement, enhancing its effectiveness.

What common mistakes do pitchers make when throwing a screwball?

Common mistakes include improper grip, incorrect pronation, and inconsistent arm speed. These can all reduce the pitch’s effectiveness and increase the risk of injury.

Can a screwball be thrown by both right-handed and left-handed pitchers?

Yes, both right-handed and left-handed pitchers can throw a screwball. The left-to-right movement will vary depending on the pitcher’s dominant hand.


Mastering the screwball pitch can give you a significant edge on the mound. By focusing on the correct grip, arm motion, and pronation, you can achieve the unique left-to-right movement that baffles hitters.

Avoiding common mistakes and incorporating consistent practice will enhance your accuracy and effectiveness. The screwball’s ability to disrupt a batter’s timing and balance makes it a valuable addition to your pitching arsenal.

Use it strategically to complement other pitches and keep hitters off-balance, leading to more strikeouts and weaker contact.

Embrace the challenge and surprise your opponents with this classic yet powerful pitch. Remember to maintain proper mechanics to prevent injury and maximize efficiency.

An effective screwball requires dedication and continuous refinement, but the payoff can be substantial. Stay patient and persistent in your training, analyze your performance regularly, and make necessary adjustments.

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Pat Bloom

I lead Washington University in St. Louis' baseball team, emphasizing skill development, strategic play, and sportsmanship. Our rigorous training and competitive spirit cultivate discipline and teamwork, preparing athletes for success both in baseball and academics. We embody the determination and sportsmanship that define our university's athletics. LinkedIn

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