How the sinker is becoming an endangered species

It has typically been a concept that, if you keep the ball on the ground, you keep it out of the seats. While this is true, hitters have found new ways to get the ball into the air and get it out of the ball park.

Prior to the recent change in hitter philosophy, the sinker became a dominant pitch in limiting power and helped save some pitchers for a while. However, that time is coming to an end.

In 2019, there are 86 hitters who have an average exit velocity of at least 95 miles per hour on the sinker. In 2015, that total was only 55 total hitters who had that average. In fact, the total has stayed pretty consistent every single season prior to this campaign, as the emphasis on exit velocity and launch angle increase. In 2016, there were 66, while in 2017, there were 55 again and were 66 in ‘18 again.

Last season, there were also 20 batters who averaged over 100 mile per hour exit velocity. In 2015, there were only 14 players who averaged over 100, but Oswaldo Arcia was the only player who saw more than two pitches with that average. This season, three players are averaging over 100 mile per hour exit velocity.

The total number of sinker offerings has dropped dramatically as well. In 2019, so far, only 44 players have seen more than 150 sinkers and 102 that have seen at least 120. Last season, that number was 155 hitters seeing that 150-pitch total. In 2015, there were 106 players that saw at least 200 sinkers for the season and 201 players that saw at least 150 offerings. The raw numbers show the same totals. In 2015, there were 698,544 sinkers thrown. In 2019, that total falls over 170,000 through nearly mid-August to 528,032.

Most of the dropping totals are based on what the league is doing with the pitch. In 2015, the league-wide average slugging percentage was .405. That season, there were 299 hitters who were over league average against the sinker. This season, the league average slugging percentage is up to .435. While the total falls to 272 at the average against the sinker, the pitch totals plays into the mainly. The total slugging percentage average in 2015 is .356. This season, that total is up to .396.

The biggest change in sinker are that they are transitioning from two-seamers to sinking cutters, which have worked for the Rangers and the Astros. In a FanGraphs report from a couple of months ago, Ben Clemens researched the reasoning behind fewer two-seam fastballs. His researching pointed to the lower whiff rate on the pitches over four-seam fastballs, and the pitch being more damaging if it gets into the air. The slugging percentage jump is showing that to be true as well.

In an extra lively ball, live ball time, missing bats and limiting contact when you don’t, is much more crucial than the pure volume of ground balls induced. Clemens’ research and stats show that. With this reasoning, the sinker is dying a slow death around the game.

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