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In baseball, a breaking ball is a pitch that does not travel straight like a fastball as it approaches the batter. A pitcher who uses primarily breaking ball pitches is often referred to as a junkballer. A breaking ball will have some sideways or downward motion on it. A breaking ball is not a specific pitch, but rather any pitch that "breaks" (for instance, a curveball, cutter, slider).
A breaking ball is more difficult than a fastball for a catcher to receive as breaking pitches sometimes hit the ground before making it to the plate (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not). The pitcher must therefore have confidence in the catcher, and the catcher have confidence in himself, to block a ball in the dirt when there are runners on base, since if the ball gets away from the catcher the runners will likely advance. If a breaking ball fails to break, it is called a "hanging" breaking ball. The "hanger" becomes a high, slow pitch that is very easy to hit, and often results in hits for extra bases or a home run. A curveball does not curve side to side, but rather it drops when it reaches the strike zone.
Whether a right-handed or a left-handed pitcher is throwing will dictate which direction a catcher will turn his body to adjust for the spin of a breaking ball. Therefore, blocking the breaking ball requires some thought and preparation.
Don Mattingly wrote in Don Mattingly's Hitting Is Simple: The ABC's of Batting .300 that "hitting a breaking ball is one of the toughest things you'll have to learn" due to the ball's very brief window in the strike zone.
- Swing bowling, a similar concept in cricket
- Mattingly, Don; Rosenthal, Jim (2014). Don Mattingly's Hitting Is Simple: The ABC's of Batting .300. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 60–63. ISBN 9781466867758.