How to Throw a Sinker

Sinker ball Pitcher
Getty -Erik Isakson

Former Dodgers great Sandy Koufax said, “I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.” Although Koufax was known for his knee-buckling curveball, this quote applies perfectly to the art of a sinkerball. The sinker isn’t designed to be a major strikeout pitch. It doesn’t have the coolness factor of a 100mph fastball or a 12-6 curveball, but it does do one thing effectively: get hitters out.

Primary Use of the Sinker: Groundballs

The sinker is effective because it consistently forces hitters to turn over on the ball and induce a groundball. Keeping the ball on the ground in the infield provides a number of ways to record outs. For example, take a situation where there are runners on the corners with one out. If you want to get out of this jam without anyone crossing home plate, you have two strategies to work towards. If you possess a dominant strikeout pitch, then you can go for the strikeout and then attempt to get the final hitter out. However, not everyone has nasty strikeout pitches they can lean on in jams. In this case, you try to get the hitter to turn over into a groundball double play. In essence, this is the core use for a sinker.

Understanding the Grip

The nice thing about the sinker is that it isn’t a difficult pitch to learn the grip and release for. In fact, you can start out with the same grip as the two-seamer.

Helpful Baseball Drills provides a terrific narrative on how to get this grip. “Place your index and middle fingers over the seams where the seams are closest together. With the sinker you could try placing the index and middle fingers on the outside edge of the seams. And the thumb rests directly underneath these two fingers in the open area on the baseball.” The more pitches you learn how to throw, the more you’ll realize the importance of mastering the grips before even learning how to throw the pitch.

Release: Tighter Grip

No matter what sinkerball pitcher you talk with, they’ll all stress the importance of a firmer grip. As evidenced by an article, this grip creates friction against the air and “is what makes the ball sink, but it’s also what makes the pitch a few miles per hour slower than a normal fastball.” As a result, you witness a greater break in your sinker pitch. Another important note in terms of the release is to always keep your hand and fingers on top throughout the release. This will ensure the sinking occurs in a downward motion. As you can tell, there isn’t much to the release, but it is still critical to practice the release because one miscue can lead to batting practice taking place in an actual game.

Less Stress on the Body: Longer Outings, Longer Careers

In today’s baseball environment, one of the players most susceptible to major injuries is pitchers. Whether it be shoulder or elbow injuries, youth leagues are placing more and more restrictions on the amount of innings and pitches that can be throw to attempt to diminish these risks. The sinker is a perfect weapon to combat these injury risks that are much more common when throwing higher percentages of curveballs or fastballs.

The wrist doesn’t get twisted much, nor is there significant torque placed on the elbow or shoulder, which is a plus. Helpful Baseball Drills provides a great tidbit to lessen the risk even further. “Trying to apply the most pressure with the middle finger keeps the arm flowing in a natural motion, and less likely of an arm injury.” By focusing on characteristics like this, the sinker can be an arm-preserver for youth pitchers looking to take their careers to high school and beyond.


Keeping Hitters Off Balance: Mix-and-Match Pitches

Despite all of the positive qualities of a sinker, I’m not trying to persuade pitchers to scratch all of their pitches and throw 100% sinkers. It can be a terrific situational pitch complementing others. The best all-around pitchers have a number of above-average pitches in their arsenal.

With this said, I suggest pitchers work on mixing-and-matching their various pitches. As Warren Spahn once said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” The best way to offset their timing is to have numerous pitches coming out of similar arm angles in a manner that the hitter doesn’t know what’s coming next. As I mentioned in the grip section, it has a similar grip as a two-seam fastball, but with a slightly altered release. If thrown successfully, the hitter could guess a heater is coming before it quickly dips on its way to the plate, thus inducing a grounder. The key is to focus enough time on the sinker just as you would for a curveball or changeup.

A Sinkerball Pitcher’s Worst Nightmare: Avoid Hanging the Sinker

If a sinkerball pitcher is hanging his pitches, then a baseball game can start to look like batting practice in an instant. This is because when the sinker is thrown up in the zone, it won’t experience the break that makes it so successful. For this reason, it’s easy to see why the sinker is a much more effective pitch for control pitchers as opposed to power arms. Much like a hanging curveball, the hanging sinker can be a bad omen for pitchers. After all, the point of a sinker is to induce ground outs and not fly outs. So, as a result, the pitch should start at the belt before breaking.

Top Sinkerball Arms in the Game

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of pitchers combat their lack of pitch speed with a groundball-inducing sinker. Here are a few that have dominated the pitch:

-Brandon Webb – Despite struggling with injury issues, Webb possessed one of the most dominant sinkers of his era. Combatted with a nasty changeup, curveball, and a fastball, Webb won the 2006 NL Cy Young Award. Thanks to his impressive arsenal of pitches, Webb wasn’t merely just a groundball pitcher, but also racked up a solid number of punch-outs in his career.

-Chien-Ming Wang – The former New York Yankees’ pitcher has struggled with injuries in recent years. However, during his prime, he consistently stifled hitters with a power sinker. The unique part about his sinker was the speed he threw it with, as it consistently sat in 91-94 mph range. Furthermore, the efficiency he had in regards to the sinker’s command allowed him to achieve so much success early in his career.

Keep It Low

The best piece of advice I can give to an aspiring sinker is to keep the ball low. As I mentioned numerous times, a hanging sinker is a pitcher’s worst nightmare. It is nothing more than an average batting practice pitch. At the same time, don’t forget about perfecting the rest of the pitches in your arsenal to keep hitters guessing. In the end, you know the sinker is working when the hitters are hitting the ball on the ground.

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Your Citation
Ogle, Brandon. "How to Throw a Sinker." ThoughtCo, Jul. 28, 2015, Ogle, Brandon. (2015, July 28). How to Throw a Sinker. Retrieved from Ogle, Brandon. "How to Throw a Sinker." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 12, 2017).