Spin Series with Lacey Waldrop: The Dropball

Written By: Lacey Waldrop

Why is the Dropball an Effective Pitch?

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. 

Produce Weak Groundballs

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.

Pitch to Contact and Eliminate Long Innings

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.

Dropball - Weak Groundball
Pitch to your Defense

Your Fastball Should Drop

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. 

How I Throw my Dropball

Key Tips and Tricks:

  • If you struggle to produce topspin on your fastball, try to overemphasize feeling your index and middle finger roll off the ball first.
    • Pitchers normally generate bullet spin if their pinky leads at release.
  • Check out your grip.
    • On a normal four-seam fastball grip, fingers are placed on the seams with the thumb on the opposite side of the ball.
    • I have had success throwing the dropball with my thumb placed on the side of the ball instead of underneath. This allows for more wrist dexterity.
  • Stay long and loose on your finish.
    • The throwing shoulder should internally rotate to slow the arm down after release. You don't want to fight against that by pulling up on the ball.

Three Levels of Success

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.

High Drop
High Drop
Dropball at Knee
At the Knee
Low Drop
Low Drop - Chase Pitch

Three Level Drop Drill

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.

  • Find a focal point. If you're consistently throwing your dropball too low, look higher. It sounds simple because it is, but we often neglect to do the little things that make big things happen.
  • After you've mastered throwing your dropball for a strike, start to work on throwing it for a chase.
  • When you're first working on throwing your drop as a chase pitch, focus on your movement and the height of the pitch rather than hitting the corners of the plate.
  • As you get more experienced try the Three Level Drop Drill (below).
Focus on the Little Things

As you complete the three-level drop drill, you'll want to focus on a few things to make sure you're emphasizing movement.

  • Use a taped ball to check your spin.
    • Your downward movement is aided by maintaining topspin throughout your pitch. If you struggle to see your spin with a regular ball, utilize a taped ball.
  • Finish your pitch. I really like to emphasize a loose finish, as I mentioned before. To do this, focus on the high drop portion of the drill.
    • If you pull up on the ball or tense at release, you'll lose your spin and throw the pitch higher than you intended.
  • Maintain proper body positioning.
    • I see many pitchers overemphasizing leaning into their front side when attempting to throw a dropball.
    • Although you need to transfer your weight, leaning over makes it even more challenging to find a consistent release point. This also decreases the chances of you throwing your dropball consistently for a strike.
    • Instead, work on stacking your front side as you finish your pitch. It may help to think about keeping your head in line with your belly button and toes.
    • Avoid letting your head drift past your belly button at release.

Dropball Movement Patterns

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.

Grip Adjustments

Finding a Grip that's Right for You

  • With a variety of dropball options as well as a few different movement profiles, your grip becomes an important tool in movement development.
    • For more side to side movement, try a two-seam grip with either your index finger and middle finger across the seams or your middle and ring finger across the seams.
    • You can also experiment with placing your index and middle finger closer together or adjusting pressure points.

Wrist Angle

  • Your wrist angle also factors heavily into a dropball's movement.
    • If your wrist is facing straight towards your target at release, you should generate 12-6 topspin.
    • When angled slightly to the inside of the back thigh, you can produce movement to the glove-side.
    • You may already naturally have a dropball with some arm-side run. This happens when your wrist isn't completely behind the ball at release.
    • In softball, it is difficult to generate true movement to the arm-side outside of a few inches.
    • Trying to generate arm-side run also fights against internal rotation, so try to stay away from extremely supinated hand angles at release.

Trial and Error

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!

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