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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Art of Pitching: Mastering the Sinkerball

My original idea for this story was a simple article discussing how Cumpton was getting advice from Morton and was working on improving his sinker. Add in some numbers from Cumpton last year, and it would be an easy story that I could file away as I tried to get ahead during the early weeks of Spring Training. But after talking with both players, I quickly realized that there was so much I didn’t know about the sinker, and about what players discuss when they’re talking to each other about grips. After over a dozen interviews with nine players and coaches over the last month, I realized how complex something as simple as a sinkerball pitch could be.

Really good technical article about the sinker from Pirates Prospects.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 11, 2014 at 04:43 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general, pirates, pitching, pittsburgh, pittsburgh pirates

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   1. puck Posted: March 11, 2014 at 10:18 PM (#4669928)
The sinker is traditionally viewed as a two-seam fastball thrown from a three-quarters arm slot. That’s the case with almost all of the players I talked to.


Why do those pitches sink? They're not actually thrown with top-spin, right? (Doesn't sound like it from the descriptions in the article.)
   2. puck Posted: March 11, 2014 at 10:26 PM (#4669931)
Interesting article. I should add that it notes that Brandon Cumpton has the rare 4-seam sinker.
   3. Cabbage Posted: March 11, 2014 at 11:10 PM (#4669944)

Why do those pitches sink? They're not actually thrown with top-spin, right? (Doesn't sound like it from the descriptions in the article.)


Here's what I've been told/read: the motion of the seams relative to the oncoming air means the ball generates different lift velocities. A four-seam fastball creates more lift, which creates the "rising" impression to the batter. A four-seam doesn't actually rise, it just drops less than you'd expect. A two-seam fastball creates less lift, so it "sinks" to the batter's eye.


From 2007: http://www.hardballtimes.com/in-search-of-the-sinker/
   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 11, 2014 at 11:35 PM (#4669956)
I think Cabbage is right, in some sense, but I think there are pitchers who really DO have a natural sink on their fastball, and the reason remains obscure. That is, the pitch really DOES sink, and it's not an illusion of "not rising". Mel Stottlemyre (in the olden days) was the poster boy for that pitch (and also Dean Chance). The batters called it a "heavy ball"--really tough to get good wood on and drive.

And it probably hurt Stottlemyre as a pitching coach because he assumed he could "teach" that pitch to his pitchers, but since it was part of his natural delivery, Mel could not transfer it to his charges
   5. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 11, 2014 at 11:35 PM (#4669957)
double
   6. Squash Posted: March 12, 2014 at 02:34 AM (#4670004)
Why do those pitches sink? They're not actually thrown with top-spin, right? (Doesn't sound like it from the descriptions in the article.)

The thing about sinkers is they actually have much more armside run than sink, which is created by sideways spin on the ball - nobody's sinkers actually go straight down. That's why 3/4 pitchers have the most movement/"sink" - when you're throwing over the top you get more backspin, when you're throwing from the side you get more sideways spin.

The sinkerballers with the most movement are the guys who are actually throwing mini-screwballs, by throwing from a 3/4 angle but then letting their fingers roll to the inside on release. Kevin Brown threw that way, which is why he had such sick movement - what made him really special was that he could throw that pitch, which is usually a tick or two slower than a normal fastball, at a very high velocity. You can see him do it in this video if you watch closely (incidentally, you can also see how popular the Giants were in SF before Pac Bell opened).
   7. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: March 12, 2014 at 06:43 AM (#4670016)
I just wanted to reiterate that the linked article is really good.
   8. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 12, 2014 at 08:26 AM (#4670030)
I just wanted to reiterate that the linked article is really good.


I thought it was pretty neat being able to see the actual grips that the different pitchers use, and compare them to one another.
   9. AROM Posted: March 12, 2014 at 08:48 AM (#4670035)
The sinkerballers with the most movement are the guys who are actually throwing mini-screwballs, by throwing from a 3/4 angle but then letting their fingers roll to the inside on release.


A good current example is Justin Masterson.
   10. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 12, 2014 at 10:32 AM (#4670105)
When Brad Bergesen came up with the Orioles a few years ago, he had a terrific sinker. But after he had a couple of injuries, something about his delivery changed slightly and the ball didn't sink as much. It was odd.
   11. Squash Posted: March 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM (#4670150)
When Brad Bergesen came up with the Orioles a few years ago, he had a terrific sinker. But after he had a couple of injuries, something about his delivery changed slightly and the ball didn't sink as much. It was odd.

He probably either started throwing more over the top and lost his arm angle, or it started to hurt his elbow too much to let his fingers roll to the inside so he quit doing it.
   12. The Robby Hammock District (Dan Lee) Posted: March 12, 2014 at 11:27 AM (#4670165)
Jake Westbrook as an Indian had a sinker that was either unhittable or batting practice, and never in between. IANAPC*, but it looked to me like when he was struggling, his hand would be lower on the ball at release and he'd be shot-putting it up there. When he was on, his hand came more down through the ball.

Anecdotally, it was all or nothing with him. Objectively, I haven't looked at the numbers and am not sure how I would be able to compare him to other pitchers. Game score standard deviations maybe?

(* - I am not a pitching coach.)
   13. Squash Posted: March 12, 2014 at 11:30 AM (#4670174)
The sinkerballers with the most movement are the guys who are actually throwing mini-screwballs, by throwing from a 3/4 angle but then letting their fingers roll to the inside on release.

Having now finally read the article, when he's talking about staying on top of the ball, letting the fingers roll to the inside is much the same thing. If you get your fingers on the side of the ball (so your palm is parallel to the ground) you're going to get sideways run, but not much sink. Whereas if you keep your fingers on top of ball, so your palm is more perpendicular to the ground (your fingers are pointing up instead of to the side) you're going to get more sink. If you follow through with that motion your fingers are going to naturally slide inward on release (sort of like a karate chop to the inside), hence the mini-screwball Kevin-Brown effect. Sinkers are essentially generated by staying on top of the ball from a 3/4 arm angle, the lower you can get with going truly sidearm the better (say a 7/8 angle - cheating to the low side - release).
   14. Bob Tufts Posted: March 12, 2014 at 12:42 PM (#4670261)
All correct - with three additions:

The fingers for a pitcher go outside the seams slightly (to the left for a lefty, to the right for a righty) to get added spin and the horizontal twisting motion.

The pitcher can also choke the ball further back in their hand to get a forkball like rotation that adds more downward rotation.

The pitcher can also throw across their body (not recommended as it causes excessive shoulder stress) to amplify the rotation, as the arm has to travel across the pitcher's body to make up for the stepping away from the batter and slides over the ball more.

All of these will also cause a reduction in velocity.
   15. Squash Posted: March 12, 2014 at 01:05 PM (#4670290)
The pitcher can also choke the ball further back in their hand to get a forkball like rotation that adds more downward rotation.

Yeah in the article Mazzaro is doing this - holding the ball well back in his hand. He'll get less speed but more resistance and hence more movement.

The pitcher can also throw across their body (not recommended as it causes excessive shoulder stress) to amplify the rotation, as the arm has to travel across the pitcher's body to make up for the stepping away from the batter and slides over the ball more.

Another thing Kevin Brown did to a certain degree, which is why he would fall off to the side after he threw (as a lot of the heavy sinkerballer guys do). He really was awesome - whereas for a lot of pitchers those sinkers are topping out at around 87-88-maybe 89 mph, he was able to hum them up there at 93-94. He had more movement than pretty much anyone I've ever seen, particularly in his Rangers-Marlins heyday. What really was awesome was when he moved on to the Padres and Dave Stewart had him start throwing a 4-seamer as well, which he could get up to 98. Incredible.
   16. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: March 12, 2014 at 01:13 PM (#4670305)
Bob, don't know if this is the first thread you've posted in lately, but it's good to see you here again. Did you start to use the Ignore function?
   17. Bob Tufts Posted: March 12, 2014 at 02:44 PM (#4670416)
No, I just chose ignore any and all repetitive BBTF discussions that were a waste of time.
   18. epoc Posted: March 12, 2014 at 03:45 PM (#4670478)
The pitcher can also throw across their body (not recommended as it causes excessive shoulder stress) to amplify the rotation, as the arm has to travel across the pitcher's body to make up for the stepping away from the batter and slides over the ball more.


That's interesting, because I've noticed recently that almost every Pirate pitching prospect strides to his arm side and throws back across his body. I had guessed that this was something the org was teaching its guys, so it makes sense that it might be related to movement on the two-seamer. It would be interesting to know how they feel about the injury concern.
   19. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: March 12, 2014 at 03:47 PM (#4670481)
No, I just chose ignore any and all repetitive BBTF discussions that were a waste of time.


Uh-oh. We've lost Bob.

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