Longtime softball coach Joe Catalano likes to introduce one new pitch at a time to his pitchers. They must first master a fastball. He then teaches a changeup, which he outlined for the Season in a previous article. The next pitch on Catalano’s list is the drop ball.
Catalano says a pitcher should be able to consistently throw her fastball and changeup in games for strikes before moving on to the drop ball.
The fastball also has to be effective before moving on, Catalano said.
“It is important to me that the pitcher understand that if her fastball is not fast enough, meaning she can throw it in the 50-60 mph range based on her age, that her drop — or for that matter, any other pitch — will not have the movement to get the ball to break much,” Catalano said. “Consequentially, I may hold some pitchers back moving on until they can throw hard enough.”
Why the Drop Ball
The drop ball is an easy pitch to learn and effective in different situations:
1. When a pitcher might need a ground out.
2. When the batter is holding her bat too high.
3. When the pitcher is having trouble keeping her fastball low in the zone.
Teaching Movement Pitches
Catalano, who has coached at Division I schools Niagara University, Canisius College, and the University of Buffalo, as well as high school and travel softball teams in western New York, said there are four important parts to movement pitches.
1. Making sure the pitcher gets the correct spin on the ball. It has to be perfect.
2. Emphasizing precise posture and lean at release of the ball.
3. Understanding the exact spot to release each pitch.
4. The faster the ball spins, the better chance it will break.
Rules of the Drop Ball
Catalano teaches two types of the drop ball — the peel and the turnover — and lets the pitcher experiment with both. He uses the four-seam fastball grip for both and then demonstrates the spin, release point, posture, and follow through.
- 1. The four-seams on the ball must spin forward/downward in a direct path to the catcher’s glove.
- 2. When the stride leg lands, the pitcher must have her body weight on her stride foot and her stride should be slightly shorter than her fastball stride. She should angle her whole body forward at the release point in a straight line and not just bending at the waist.
3A. When throwing the peel drop, the ball should literally peel off the end of her fingers. The thumb should come off first and the middle finger last. Her circle is a replica of her fastball, but at the release point she allows the ball to peel off her fingers by pulling her elbow back. It is almost like slamming on the brakes and going into reverse. Catalano allows the pitcher to bring her hand up after release or straight back, whatever works most effectively. It’s extremely important that the fingers are pointing slightly downward and into the catcher’s glove and her elbow is at about a 100-degree angle.
3B. For the turnover drop, the hand starts under the ball and is immediately over the ball at the release point. Her pitching hand should finish in front of her thigh on the follow through.
4. To help the ball break, the pitcher needs to follow through with her whole body towards the catcher’s glove. To make it easier to learn, Catalano asks them to get up on their back toe after the stride foot has landed. The goal is to get the ball to start breaking downward approximately six to eight feet in front of the plate and the height of the pitch should never go above the batter’s knees.
- 5. The faster the pitcher can get the ball to spin, the better chance for the ball to break. That’s why having a good fastball is so crucial. Just getting movement — whether it breaks one or four inches — is the main focus.
Teaching the Drop Ball
- 1. Introduce the grip, posture, release point and speed of spin.
Peel Drop Ball: Start in the open position and have the pitcher extend her arm out in front of her body with the ball in her fingers. Have the pitcher just pull her arm back and let the ball roll off her fingers. The object is to see how fast she can get the ball to spin. As the ball rolls off her fingers, it should go up in the air with perfect rotation and come right down into her hand. The pitcher gains immediate feedback as to how to release the ball and how it should spin.
Turnover Drop Ball: Put the ball in her hand by her side with her fingers directly under the ball and then take her hand and turn it over, driving the ball into the ground by her foot.
Peel Drop Ball: Have the pitcher start about 10 feet in front of home plate and make her swing her arm back slightly and throw the ball to the catcher using the technique described.
Turnover Drop Ball: Have the pitcher stand directly in front of home plate and just do the drill described above. The pitcher is driving the ball into the catcher’s glove on the ground.
4. Move back to about 25 feet and work on mechanics while throwing at half speed.
Drills to Practice the Drop Ball
The One Hop Drill: Start the pitcher about 10 feet farther back than normal. Without using a catcher, ask her to throw her drop and have the ball skip 10 feet in front of home plate. This drill helps the pitcher with her release point and body lean.
The String Drill: Set up a thin rope eight feet in front of home plate and 12 inches off the ground. The object is to have the pitcher get the ball to go over the rope and land in the catcher’s glove behind home plate a few inches below the rope. This drill gives the pitcher immediate feedback as to whether the ball is breaking or not.
Catalano encourages pitchers to start throwing the drop ball in games because the more they use it, the better it will develop. Once they can effectively use the drop ball, Catalano teaches the next pitch: the curveball.
From GameChanger and Tom Glave.