Of all the movement pitches (i.e., anything that isn’t a flat fastball or changeup), the one with the highest reward v lowest risk is the drop ball.
At worst, if a drop ball doesn’t drop it’s still a low fastball. Low pitches are generally tougher to hit hard than higher ones, which is why many coaches love to the work the bottom of the strike zone.
I’ve sometimes used a drop ball that isn’t dropping to help solve the problem of a pitcher throwing fastballs that are rising out of the zone. Pitches don’t always have to “work” to work.
At best, if it doesn’t cause a hitter to swing and miss entirely it will often result in a weak ground ball. As long as you have a solid infield that should mean a lot of relatively easy outs and a low-scoring game.
Compare that to a curve or screw that doesn’t curve or screw, remaining flat and easy to hit. Or a riseball that doesn’t “rise” and ends up sitting in the power zone of a good hitter. All of those will get you in a whole heap o’ trouble.
if you’re going to throw a drop ball, though, you really do want it to work. Ideally it should come in flat, around thigh-high or just above the knees, until it’s a few feet from the plate – at which point it dives for the ground as if it hit the top of a frame and got deflected down.
Making that happen, however, is easier said than done. As any pitcher who has tried it can tell you.
One of the big keys you’ll hear to throwing an effective drop ball is to move your weight forward at release, sometimes referred to as “posting up.” This move essentially has the pitcher standing more vertical (straight up and down) at release rather than being tilted slightly backward.
One reason for posting up is to change the release angle of the pitch. If the ball is coming out flat, or moving upward only a degree or two out of the hand, it stands a much better chance of actually dropping suddenly versus a pitch with a higher angle of release.
Why does the release angle matter? The short answer is because you’re working WITH gravity instead of trying to fight it.
(If you’re curious as to what actually makes the drop ball drop, check out the explanation at the end of this post. For the rest of you, I won’t bore you with those details here.)
For most drops, the other key is to release the ball a little earlier than you would a fastball – basically at the back of the back leg instead of between the legs. Posting up will naturally move your release back to this point.
Try this: stand with your feet at a 45 degree angle to where you want to “throw” your imaginary pitch and your weight distributed evenly on both feet. See where your arm hangs.
It’s probably slightly in front of your back leg.
Now shift your weight so 95% or more is on your front foot, and you’re just using your back foot for balance. If you kept it relaxed your arm is likely hanging a little further back relative to your body.
Without even trying you shifted your release point back some.
Getting the feel of this position when you’re going full speed can be difficult. Many pitchers will tend to throw and then post up afterwards. Luckily I have a drill for that.
In the video below, Karsyn is standing completely on her front foot while leaving her back foot toe-down for balance. You can check this by having the pitcher lift her back foot off the ground then settle it it back down on top of the toe.
Now she throws with a full circle motion, focusing on a quick release. (While we’re demonstrating a pronation/peel drop here, it also works with a rollover drop release, as long as you’re not encouraging a release out in front of the body as some do.)
With a couple of pitches you should start seeing the ball come in flat, or slightly upward, then drop as if rolling off the proverbial table. Getting the feel from this position is pretty easy.
Just be sure the pitcher is throwing with a fast arm circle, i.e., at her regular fastball/drop ball speed. Otherwise, if the pitch is too slow, yes it will drop but it’s more of what I call a “gravity drop.”
That’s not what we’re looking for. We want a pitch that is about the same speed as the fastball (+/- a couple of mph) but has a dynamic drop to it at the end.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get the ball to drop, or is throwing it straight down into the ground, give this drill a try. I call it the Best Drop Ball Drill in the World, and once you do it you may call it that as well.
Why Drop Balls Drop
Ok, as promised, here’s the basic explanation of the physics of why a drop ball drops suddenly.
There are two key concepts here. The first is Bernoulli’s Principle, which is the same reason airplanes fly (only upside down as you will see).
In the case of the ball, the movement through the air and the spin direction of the ball (ideally straight over the top, or 12:00 to 6:00) creates a difference in the air pressure on the top of the ball versus the bottom.
Because the air has to travel a longer distance on the bottom versus the top (because of the forward spin) there is less air pressure on the bottom of the ball. When this difference is great enough the high pressure on the top will push the ball down and it will drop like a rock.
This pressure difference is aided by the seams and the Magnus Effect.
The seams help increase the effect of ball’s spin on creating a pressure differential. The higher the seams the more the airflow gets increase over the top and interrupted on the bottom.
The Magnus Effect build on Bernoulli’s Principle by incorporating the effect of the ball spinning (as well as the orientation of the axis).
Bernoulli’s Principle basically looks at the effect of a static object moving through the air (or in actuality liquid but let’s stay with air) and its spin axis. The faster the ball spins, the more of a pressure difference is created and therefore the greater the movement.
If the spin axis is perpendicular to the direction of travel (i.e., the spin axis is on the exact side of the ball as it moves forward) it has its greatest efficiency and thus will create the best ball movement.
Now you know.
Magnus Effect image by Rdurkacz – using inkscape, inspired by original version of wikipedia diagram, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24490137
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