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Entries in sinker (5)

Friday
Jul192013

Derek Lowe Loses that Sinking Feeling

Derek Lowe has decided to call it a career after 17 seasons that included a curse-shattering World Series title with the Red Sox in 2004, two All-Star selections and career earnings north of $110 million. Lowe's money pitch was the sinker, which helped him keep the ball in the park like few others during his era. With 0.7 career home runs surrendered per nine innings, Lowe ranks behind just Greg Maddux, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez among those tossing 2,000+ innings since the beginning of the 1997 season.

While Lowe's sinker cashed lots of checks over his career, it started to bounce a few years ago -- as in, off outfield walls and bleachers. Lowe's sinker stopped sinking -- and hitters started slugging.

Take a look at Lowe's pitch location with his sinker from 2010 (his last quality season) to 2013, when he coughed up three homers in 13 innings pitched out of the Texas bullpen before getting released.

Pitch location of Lowe's sinker, 2010

 

Pitch location of Lowe's sinker, 2011

 

Pitch location of Lowe's sinker, 2012

 

Pitch location of Lowe's sinker, 2013

Lowe threw about 68% of his sinkers down in the strike zone in 2010, by far the highest clip in the majors among starters who used the pitch regularly. That declined to 65% in 2011, 60% in 2012 and 51% during his brief tenure with the Rangers in 2013.  

With Lowe leaving more sinkers over the middle and upper portions of the plate, hitters teed off. Opponents slugged .400 against Lowe's sinker in 2010, .438 in 2011, .461 in 2012 and .514 in 2013. The big league average for starters over the 2010-13 seasons is .447. Lowe might not say he's retired, but his sinker says otherwise.

Monday
Mar212011

Josh Johnson adds a sinker?

Josh Johnson has apparently been working on a sinker this Spring Training.  He claims he picked it up while playing catch with fellow Marlins starter Chris Volstad.

Adding a sinker to his arsenal could prove to be even more deadly for opposing hitters this season.  Johnson went 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, throwing a fastball averaging 94.7 MPH, a slider, and a changeup. 

Josh Johnson 2010
AVGOBPSLUGwOBABABIPK%BB%HR%
Fastball.231.295.336.280.30425.6%8.2%1.0%
Change Up.273.293.330.277.34320.7%3.3%0.0%
Slider.210.249.307.246.26825.8%3.6%1.5%
Totals.229.282.325.269.29825.0%6.5%1.0%

 

Volstad is not a bad guy to learn a sinker from, as his has some of the best downward movement in the game. Last year, his sinker ranked 7th in all of baseball in movement with an average of 14.8 feet per second of downward velocity. However, he got into trouble leaving his sinker up in the zone too often, and batters hit .283 and slugged .442 on it.



It remains to be seen if Josh Johnson will effectively utilize the sinker this season. He's been able to induce some groundballs with it in limited use this spring, but until the real games begin, there's no way of knowing how confident he'll be throwing it. With men on base and less than 2 outs, a sinker can be a pitcher's best friend. If Johnson can master the pitch, he'll have yet another weapon to keep batters off their game.

Sunday
Feb202011

Trevor Cahill's Sinker: Luck or Skill?

Trevor Cahill had a fantastic year for the Oakland A's in 2010.  He was very successful in keeping the ball down, as he went from a 96 ERA+ in 2009 to a 136 ERA+ last season.  Some have noted that his very low overall BABIP (.237) is partially responsible for his success, rather than any particular ability to induce weak ground balls.  However, a closer look possibly indicates that luck may not have played as big a role in Cahill's success.

Cahill was one of the most successful ground ball pitchers in the majors; 56% of batted balls off his pitches ended up on the ground in 2010, 5th highest in the majors.  As you can see from the heat map above, he became very efficient at keeping his pitches down last season.  His GB/FB ratio went from .92 to 1.32 in one year.  The main reason: his excellent sinker.

Cahill's 2010 sinker was flat out nasty, averaging 14.8 feet per second of downward movement, putting him in the top 10 percent of sinkerballers.  This makes it tougher to chalk up his basement low .153 batting average on ground balls (best in the majors) to mostly luck.  He's obviously benefitting greatly from the movement he's getting on his sinker. If batters are finding it harder to makes solid contact as a result of that increased movement, it's possible they are hitting weaker ground balls; in turn, this would make it easier for his defense to field and turn these ground balls into outs. 

This is not to say that we won't see some regression this year.  It's certainly possible that a good chunk of these ground balls were simply finding infielders, particularly when well hit. But if he can keep his pitches down and moving as they did last year, don't be surprised if his overall BABIP remains in the cellar.