As a pitcher, I lived on my dropball. Opposing players and coaches may say that my change-up was my defining pitch, but when it comes to the percentage of pitches thrown, I would estimate that 60-70 percent of pitches I threw during games were indeed dropballs, or fastballs depending on how you think of the pitch. The dropball is typically easy to learn, and it is one of the first pitches I like to teach pitchers after learning a fastball and change-up for a variety of reasons.
I relied heavily on my defense. Yes, I struck out hitters with this pitch, but mostly I produced weak groundballs! A weak ground ball within the first pitch or two of an at-bat was my ideal start to a game. This is one of the reasons I love a great dropball: along with producing swings a misses, they often generate ground balls and mis-hits.
Essentially, the drop ball is a great tool when learning how to pitch to contact and eliminate long innings. Weak ground balls lead to easy outs, and easy outs lead to efficient innings. Efficient innings lower pitch counts, and lower pitch counts keep your arm healthy. They also keep a hitter from seeing more pitches throughout the course of a game.
A dropball is a devastating tool if thrown well. Many pitchers already throw a dropball without even realizing it! If you’ve read my previous article, “Why the fastball is still important in softball” you’ll know I’m talking about a fastball. Yes, fastballs should produce downward movement when thrown correctly, however; you may want to produce additional movement, or maybe you have a hard time creating topspin on your fastball. This is where learning different types of dropballs come into play.
I like to ask new more advanced clients what pitches they throw. Often, they mention that they throw a dropball, but they throw it only as a waste pitch or they only throw it as a chase. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest mistakes a pitcher can make. We never want to limit a pitch and only throw it for one purpose. Great hitters can recognize if you only throw a pitch for a ball, and eventually, they'll stop swinging.
To throw a pitch effectively, you need to throw it for a called strike and for a chase. Specifically with the dropball, a pitcher should practice throwing it at three different levels which include: a high strike, a low strike just above the knee, and for a chase at the ankle or even in the dirt.
Mastering the drop ball at three levels isn't easy, but you can accomplish it with diligent practice. Start by learning to throw your dropball for a strike while focusing on movement through the zone.
As you complete the three-level drop drill, you'll want to focus on a few things to make sure you're emphasizing movement.
There are many types of dropballs, and each generates a different type of movement pattern. A "drop-curve" will have a spin direction that lies somewhere between a straight curve and an over the top dropball. This in-between spin direction creates a little bit of movement to the glove-side while maintaining a downward movement pattern. A true dropball will normally spin straight down with 12-6 spin. You can also throw a drop with a natural arm-side run. This happens when the wrist is slightly angled to the arm side at release.
As you learn new pitches, it's important to keep an open mind and remain diligent through different phases of learning. The way I threw my dropball won't work for everyone, so if something isn't working for you after a while, do some research and experiment with different ideas. Whether you're trying a new grip or thinking about the pitch in a new light, find a way to experiment and invest in your development. Pitching is very individualized, so keep learning and find out what works for you. Stay tuned for more dropball drills coming your way next week!