The sinker is an elusive pitch, and can be an amazing weapon for some. But, if you’re here to learn how to throw a sinker, I’m going to send you on your way with a lot of answers.
Depending on mechanics, arm slot, hand action, the sinker grip, and other factors, a sinker may be very easy to develop, or very hard. And, there are a few myths involved, including how a 2-seamer differs from a sinker. We’ll dive into all of these topics in this article.
Myth #1: The Sinker Grip You Use is Crucial
Reality: The Grip Doesn’t Matter That Much.
A MAJOR misconception in baseball is that the grip is oh-so-important. Think of a pitch-grip like a saw. Put a saw in the hands of a bunch of high school kids in shop class, and they’ll make bird houses and other assorted junk. But, give a saw to a carpenter, and he’ll build you a house.
The curveball grip? Basically the same whether you’re a little leaguer or a Major Leaguer. Ditto with the slider, cutter, changeup and sinker. There are little variations of each, but the way the pitch is thrown is by far the most important factor.
The grip is merely a tool to impart spin on the ball, and spin forces the ball to break the way the pitcher wants. Because the spin of each pitch is what matters most, most grips are in essence naturally selected for – the best grips have been figured out long ago, and are mostly uniform across the board.
Watch this short video of Zach Britton, who throws the most unhittable sinker on the planet – he candidly explains that the grip he uses to throw his All-Star caliber sinker doesn’t work for most guys. It’s a mixture of the grip, the unique way he throws, and other factors. He is SPOT-ON with this statement.
So, Which Grip Should I Use?
Keep reading, we cover this in a bit.
Myth #2: A Sinker Is Different Than a Two-Seamer.
Reality: Each describes the action, not the intention.
Basically, if you throw a two-seamer that merely runs (arm-side lateral movement), then it’s a two-seamer. But if you throw a two-seamer that has significant sinking action, we call it a sinker.
The sinker is basically a two-seamer. If it sinks a lot, we call it a sinker. If not, we just refer to it as a two-seamer. It’s a weird convention, but the reality is that there’s no distinction between the two pitches in our intention of throwing them, as every pitcher hopes his two-seamer both runs and sinks.
Why A Sinker Sinks: What You Need To Know.
If you throw the pitch with all the pressure directly through the center of the baseball, it will have relatively “clean” backspin (spin about one axis) at the angle of your arm-slot. This will create some arm-side run, which is a great result. It may produce a little bit of sink, but likely not a lot. This will basically produce a two-seamer.
To get the heavy sinking action (making it a sinker), some of the finger pressure must be applied to the inside edge of the baseball, “pronating” ever so slightly as the ball leaves the finger tips. This will reduce the overall spin rate of the ball because you’re applying a mixture of spins, and applying less backspin, which helps the ball sink.
This mixture of spin (or a one-seamer type grip) can produce a “one-seam” orientation as it spins, which makes the ball look like the illustration below, with a thick red seam spinning at an angle.
Lower Spin Rate = More Sink
On a four-seam fastball, a higher spin rate (measured in RPMs) means the ball resists gravity more and produces more fly balls and swings and misses. This result is because the brain of a hitter basically guesses wrong about where the ball will end up, guessing incorrectly that it will be lower than it will be. He thus swings below the ball, popping it up, or missing altogether.
With a sinker, we want the opposite – a slower spin rate means the hitter’s guess will be higher than the pitch, which results in him hitting the top half of the baseball. The lower spin rate does not resist gravity, so it falls at a rate faster than that of a fastball with faster backspin.
Angled Spin Axis = More Sink & Run
Pitchers with lower arm slots can more easily create run and sink, because the ball will naturally come out of the hand without 12/6 backspin. In the photo below, you can see that the “backspin” Sale will produce will be angled more like 10/4 rather than 12/6 or 11/5 (for him as a lefty). Because this spin axis isn’t parallel with the ground, it can’t resist gravity (more on this below).
When the spin axis is not parallel with the ground (as in a lower arm angle), the backspin cannot produce lift on the ball, because the spin is not directly opposing the angle at which the ball will fall due to gravity.
Think of it in terms of an airplane – a plane couldn’t take off if the wings were angled heavily on the runway, because the high-pressure zone produced underneath the wings wouldn’t be pushing directly upward on the plane to lift it – it would push at an angle.
So, because this angled backspin does not help lift the ball, it sinks more. And if you want the best chance at throwing a great sinker, a lower arm-slot helps. Should you lower your arm-slot just to make your sinker better? Probably not, but just be aware that if you’re a high-over-the-top thrower, it will be much tougher to sink the ball.
How To Throw a Sinker: Keys to Success
#1: Tinkering, Then Settling on a Good Grip
Pick a grip. Throw it a lot to a trusted catch partner, get feedback, assess and then try a new grip. The video below is a great start.
In Myth #1, we talked about how the grip isn’t that important. But, the grip does matter in the sense that you need to select a grip which allows YOU (the unique snowflake that you are) to accomplish the task of making the ball sink.
Which grip allows you to best accomplish this? It will take trial and error, but I’ll give you some good starting points in the short video below, with a half-dozen common grips.
#2: Getting to the Top of the Ball
We discussed how angled spin helps lower the overall spin rate, which produces less lift on the ball and makes it sink. But, to apply this angle to the spin, you must get your fingers slightly to the inside of the ball.
However, the goal is to not have to consciously do it, but rather let the grip do it for you.
Find a grip that works for you, where your natural throwing motion delivers your hand more to the inside of the baseball. Actively trying to pronate (the motion of pouring out a can of soda) will make the pitch behave more like a changeup, taking too much speed off it, and often resulting in poor control of it.
Most amateur pitchers struggle to get to the top of the ball and force it on an ideal downhill plane toward the plate. Focusing hard on feeling for the top of the baseball during catch, flat-grounds and bullpens is really crucial. If you need tips on playing better catch, I’d suggest reading this article.
#3: Finishing Hard With a Full Follow-Through
Many pitchers tend to leave a little on the table, not completely finishing their pitches. Accelerating the arm at 100% through release is crucial – do not aim, guide or push the ball – throw it 99-100% as hard as you possibly can. Babying the pitch means you’ll both throw it with reduced velocity and reduced spin.
But wait – don’t we want a reduced spin rate? Yes, but not because we eased off it. Rather, we want to reduce the spin rate by applying spin on the inside of the ball, which we accomplish by choosing a good grip and finishing each pitch hard.
#4. Moving the Chest and Torso Toward the Plate
There are myriad reasons for using the torso to deliver the arm toward the plate – by transferring power from the legs, through the torso, then to the arm and hand, we use our whole body and don’t overstress just the arm. Pedro is a good example of driving his torso forward to the catcher.
When pitchers don’t use their torso well, meaning that they stand more upright than they should at release, they leave velocity on the table and compensate by spinning, rotating more than they need.
The hips will rotate on their own, but what we want to think about is moving the chest toward the catcher. If a pitcher does this, it will be vastly easier for him to deliver his hand to the top and inside of the ball to apply the spin that he needs.
If you need to improve this, one drill I suggest is the Rocker Drill, shown below.
#5. Feel it, Get Good Feedback & Throw it Often
No pitch can be developed without two crucial components:
- High repetitions – practicing it over and over with a HIGH level of focus
- Focus on how the pitch feels leaving the fingertips
- Getting feedback from a trusted source
Basically, you need to throw it over and over and over to someone who can tell you when it sinks more or less, or looks good or bad. Then, when they give you feedback, you combine that with how the pitch felt leaving your hands, and then try to replicate the feeling of a good sinker, and NOT repeat the bad sinkers. That’s the process, and there’s nothing glamorous about it – it takes time, focus and attention to detail.
Need More Help Learning How To Throw New Pitches?
Check out two of my best resources, both of which are completely free:
- A Four-Lesson, Step-By-Step Guide to learning a heavy-sinking changeup.
How to Throw a Hammer Curveball Guide
- A 15-page PDF guide that takes you step-by-step through the process of learning, understanding, and fine-tuning a curveball.