MLB Power Rankings: The 7 Best Sinkerballers in the Game Today
The sinkerball is a great pitch to have in an arsenal for a pitcher. Because of its downward movement a sinkerball induces a lot of ground balls, which, as we all know, are a pitcher's best friend.
There aren't as many guys in baseball that throw this pitch that you might think, but of the ones who do, they throw it often.
Ultimately, however, the sinker does not lend itself to amassing the "sexy stats" (i.e. strikeouts), and thus sometimes sinkerball pitchers can be undervalued. A strikeout is great, but nothing is better than getting ground balls on a consistent basis—especially when there are men on base. Ground balls not only lead to fewer hits, but they also lead to more efficient innings and thus the ability to stay in the game longer.
*A note to keep in mind as you continue reading: This list is meant to discuss the best sinkerball pitchers in 2011 thus far. It is not a list comprised of the best sinkers of all time. Thus, stats listed will always be from the 2011 season only.
Before we begin with the best sinkerball pitchers, in no particular order, let's look at a few players who did not make the list but were close.
The "Need to Be More Consistent" List
- Mike Pelfrey
- Jake Westbrook
- Luke Hochevar
- Joel Pineiro
Each one of the guys listed above has shown an unhittable sinkerball at one time or another. Unfortunately, they've also shown the complete opposite a lot.
If a sinkerball doesn't do what it's supposed to (move down and in on a right-handed batter), then it becomes one of the biggest "meatballs" a hitter will ever see; usually, it will have almost no movement, come in between 87-92 mph and be in the middle of the strike zone.
All the players above will use their sinkerball often, but either from a lack of command or a lack of consistency, they're not using the pitch as effectively as it can be used.
The "All-Injury" List
- Brandon Webb
- Aaron Cook
- Chien-Ming Wang
Unlike the players on the previous list, this list is comprised of players who do use their sinkerball effectively but, because of injury, have not gotten to show it off lately.
Each one of the three listed above, at one time, was considered a dominant pitcher and got even the best hitters to ground out off his sinker.
Nowadays, however, each of them is struggling to get back on a major-league mound, let alone get hitters out.
The nice thing about being a sinkerball pitcher is that as long as you have movement on the pitch, you can be effective in the majors; thus, if these guys are even half as good as they once were, they may become useful to their teams if they can get healthy.
It's worth keeping an eye on these guys to see how they progress (especially from a fantasy point of view).
Tim Hudson is the epitome of a classic sinkerball pitcher: He gets a lot of ground balls, works very efficiently and, ultimately, pitches to contact rather than going for a strikeout.
Let's take a look at the 2011 numbers, thus far, for Hudson and his sinker.
- Has recorded 281 sinkers so far; he has thrown almost 200 more sinkers than the next most frequent pitch he has thrown, his slider.
- His sinker is averaging 90.3 mph with a horizontal movement of -8.07.
- With men on base Hudson is probably looking to get a double play, and thus he throws his sinker over 50 percent of the time in that situation.
- Hudson's favorite spot to keep his sinker is down and in to righties and down and away to lefties.
If you're unfamiliar with these types of statistics, the negative in front of the number means it's moving inward on a right-handed hitter, and the number 8.07 says it is moving in on the hitter a lot.
The amazing thing about Hudson and his sinker, much like Mariano Rivera and his cutter, is that the hitter can know it's coming, but because of all the movement he has on it, it's still very hard to hit.
Another Braves pitcher, Derek Lowe, also has a pretty good sinkerball. Lowe has made a great name for himself, much of which has to be attributed to the success he has had with his sinker.
- Similar to Tim Hudson, Lowe has thrown about 300 sinkers this season, and his next most common pitch, which is almost 100 times less thrown than the sinker, is his slider.
- A typical at-bat against Lowe would be a sinker early and then, if he gets ahead, off-speed pitches; if those don't work and he throws a couple of balls, he will go back to the sinker to get you out.
- The average velocity of a Lowe sinker is 87.7 mph.
- Against right-handed batters one-third of Lowe's pitch location is down and in; about one-fifth to left-handed hitters is also down and in.
Brandon League, the closer for the Seattle Mariners, has the rare combination of a sinker that moves a massive amount coupled with the fact that he throws it very hard; much harder than most other sinkerball pitchers in the majors.
Here are the important things to know about League's sinker:
- Average velocity is 95.6 mph!
- Average horizontal movement is -10.48; average vertical movement is 3.74.
- League has three pitches: a sinker, a changeup and a four-seam fastball. The sinker has been thrown 107 times this year, the changeup 31 and the fastball eight.
- An unusual result of throwing the sinker is a fly ball, but against right-handed batters, a fly ball (46.7 percent of the time) has been more common than a ground ball (33.3 percent of the time).
- Like Hudson, League will keep his pitches in the same spot: down and in on righties and down and away on lefties.
- In a 2-2 count League will almost always use his changeup, but if the count goes 3-2, he always goes back to the sinker.
The young starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, Justin Masterson, has burst onto the scene in 2011 by having some great performances and keeping some of the best lineups in check.
No doubt his sinker and the success he has had with it are a big factor in that. Let's take a look:
- 294 sinkers thrown compared to 170 four-seam fastballs.
- 91.7 mph average velocity
- Horizontal movement of -8.31
- The sinker induces a massive number of ground balls: Against RH the sinker gets a ground ball over 80 percent of the time and against LH over 66 percent.
- Keeps his pitches down and in on right-handed batters but mixes between going down and in and down and away on left-handed batters (LH).
- Similar to Brandon League, Masterson will often turn away from his sinker in a 2-2 count but will go back to it if the count goes to 3-2.
Say what you will about Carlos Zambrano, but saying he doesn't have a good sinkerball would be a lie.
Unlike the others on the list thus far, Zambrano does not use his sinker has his primary pitch; instead, he uses it as a secondary pitch.
- Zambrano has thrown 214 cutters and 143 sinkers—by far his two most popular pitches this season.
- 88.9 mph average velocity for the sinker.
- His sinker induces a lot of ground balls against both RH and LH hitters, but especially against RH hitters, with over 70 percent of balls put into play against his sinker coming in the form of a ground ball.
- Zambrano will most often use his sinker either to start an at-bat or if he falls behind in the count.
- With RISP (runners in scoring position) Zambrano will usually use his cut fastball, while mixing in a few sinkers and sliders.
Jason Marquis is off to a great start in 2011; he's 3-0 with a 2.62 ERA thus far.
As we'll see, Marquis is another "classic" sinkerball pitcher in that he throws the sinker a majority of the time, with a slider being his main secondary pitch.
Here are some other important facts about Marquis' sinker:
- 88.9 mph average velocity on the sinker.
- Vertical movement of the sinker, on average, is 5.54!
- Hitters can expect to see anything other than the sinker in a 1-2 or 2-2 count; but earlier in the count, or later, Marquis will use his sinker an overwhelming majority of the time.
- Although ultimately consistent a majority of the time, sometimes Marquis can tip which pitch he is throwing. If he is throwing a sinker, his release point will be a little closer to his body, but if he is throwing a slider, his release point will be a little farther from his body.
Our last pitcher on the list is the Los Angeles Dodgers' Jon Garland. Although Garland doesn't have the name recognition of others, his sinker is still a very good pitch.
- 132 sinkers thrown in 2011, the most of any of his pitches.
- Average velocity is 87.6 mph.
- LH will swing and miss more often at his sinker than RH.
- Uses his sinker most in the beginning and end parts of a count.
- Horizontal movement is -8.05.
- Vertical movement is 6.11.
- Focuses a majority of his pitches on the inside and lower half of the strike zone.
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