A sinker is a baseball pitch that was mystifying even to the pitchers who used it up through the 1950s. But modern baseball pitchers are starting to get a handle on what makes this fastball tick. Sinkers are a great pitch for youth baseball pitchers to add to their repertoire since it doesn’t cause as much strain on the arm as other off-the-wall pitches like screwballs.
A perfect sinker can be thrown by using a 2-seam fastball grip while putting a spin on the ball at the last minute before release, causing the ball to spin downwards as it is thrown. A perfect sinker is thrown at waist level to the batter so that it ends up slightly inside and low to a righthanded batter. Sinkers are designed to prevent fly balls.
So how do you throw a nasty sinker that will leave batters shook? The procedure isn’t complicated; it just takes plenty of practice. Keep reading and learn more about how to throw the perfect sinker.
How to Throw a Perfect Sinker
When it comes down to it, there are two secrets to throwing a perfect sinker: grip and release.
- Grip. The grip that the pitcher uses on the ball determines the arc of the ball.
- Release. Throwing a perfect sinker involves releasing the ball with a slight spin forward at the very end to set the ball on a downward trajectory.
Sounds simple, right? It’s actually a little more complicated than that. We’ll go through the process of throwing the perfect sinker in more detail in the sections below.
How to Grip the Ball for a Sinker Pitch
Knowing how to grip the ball for a sinker pitch is half the battle, and it’s easy to think about it in terms of other fastball grips. A sinker grip is very similar to the grip used for a two-seam fastball. Here is the process you should use for gripping the ball in a sinker pitch (Source: Steve Ellis Pitching Tips):
- Hold the ball slightly outward, like you would for a screwball grip. This is what gives the pitch the slight horizontal movement that puts it in the inside pocket.
- Place middle and index fingers over the seams where they come closest together on the ball. If this grip is uncomfortable, try placing the middle and index fingers slightly to the outside of the seams. It may take some experimentation to find a sinker grip that works for you.
- Rest the thumb directly below and between the middle and index fingers. To think about its placement, if you put your fingers in a peace sign, the tip of your thumb should come up between the crease where your middle and index fingers meet.
Alternative Grip for a Sinker Pitch
Another way of holding the sinker pitch if you don’t like holding the ball over the seams is to place your middle and index fingers over the horseshoe of the seams and bring your thumb underneath the ball to position it between them.
While this grip isn’t used as often for pitching sinkers as the traditional sinker grip, it’s a good option for those pitchers who find gripping over the seams uncomfortable. It’s also harder to interpret the sinker pitch as a fastball pitch when the grip is held in this position.
If you’re just learning how to throw a sinker pitch, try both the traditional sinker grip and the alternative grip while pitching to see which one is easier. You might even find a grip other than these two that is still effective, though you’ll probably need to adjust the twist on the end of your pitch to achieve the same sinking effect with the ball.
How to Throw the Ball on a Sinker Pitch
Once you’re in position to pitch, you’ll need to follow a certain pitching procedure to wind up a perfect sinker pitch. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to throw the ball on a sinker pitch (Source: Driveline Baseball):
- Use the same stance as you use with a fastball (neutral pitching stance). This can be either a windup or a coming set, depending on if there are runners on base.
- Aim for the batter’s waist level. It’s important to not pitch above the waist of the batter, or you’re only going to be setting the batter up for a perfect hit.
- Come over the top of the ball with your arm as you throw. This means you should keep your middle and index fingers over the top of the ball all the way through the throw except at the very end before the release when you should “flick” the ball forward to put a slight forward spin on it. This causes the resistance that forces the ball to drop.
- Apply the highest amount of pressure on the middle finger before releasing the ball into the pitch, placing the index finger ahead of it in the pitch. Placing the index finger slightly ahead of the middle finger before the release of the ball is where it derives its sidespin.
- Turn your hand outward as you throw; this will help give the ball horizontal movement even as it drops over home plate.
It is likely to take several pitching sessions to get a feel for how the sinker feels, and many more sessions to be able to throw this fastball successfully. But once you learn how to pull it off, you’ll be able to throw batters off left and right.
How to Release the Ball for a Sinker Pitch
Releasing the ball during a sinker pitch is one of the most important parts of the pitch. This is because the pressure point used during the release helps to ensure that the ball will sink and that the ball will slightly curve to the inside.
These tips will help you release the ball during your pitch for a perfect sinker:
- Be sure to keep your thumb positioned underneath your middle and index fingers right up until the ball is released. This is one of the things that helps keep your pitch from going wild when you put sidespin on it.
- Keep your grip on the ball a little tighter than you normally would with a fastball until the point of release. This helps create more friction when the ball is released, raising the ball’s air resistance and causing it to sink over the plate.
It may take some repetition to figure out the exact breaking point when you let the ball go for getting the best sidespin and sink on your pitch, but once you’ve had some practice you should be able to feel when you’ve pulled off a good release for a sinker pitch.
Breakdown of the Perfect Sinker
At its heart, a sinker pitch is very similar to a two-seam fastball pitch, both in the grip used and in the positioning of the ball over the plate.
The only real difference is that instead of coming directly over the plate, a sinker pitch introduces some horizontal movement that causes the ball to curve slightly in towards the batter as it falls.
When it is placed correctly, a sinker does two things well. It causes a batter:
- To swing whether they want to or not
- To hit an easy grounder if they do make contact
By keeping the ball low, pitchers can help prevent batters from getting up underneath the back of the ball for that game-breaking home run.
Additional Attributes of the Perfect Sinker Pitch
Here are some other characteristics of that perfect sinker:
- Sinkers have less vertical movement than a usual fastball
- Sinkers should land slightly to the inside on a righthanded batter
- Sinkers must land below the belt to be effective
- Sinkers are a high-velocity throw with major sidespin
- Sinkers manipulate the aerodynamic friction on the ball as it is pitched, and this is the cause of the ball “sinking” in midair as the pitch progresses
(Source: Helpful Baseball Drills)
Even though there is a lot to love about the sinker, the exact art of how to throw one is somewhat elusive for pitchers. While the process of throwing the sinker is understood, being able to do so consistently is a skill that only a coveted few pitchers across major and minor league baseball teams can throw all the time without pitching wild.
Windup and Stretch Pitching Positions for a Sinker Pitch
There are two stances used when getting ready to deliver a sinker pitch from the mound: the windup or the stretch. While there has been some controversy among pitchers over which starting position in the pitch allows for a greater velocity, studies have shown that both positions are comparable when it comes to the velocity of the ball’s final delivery. (Source: Top Velocity)
Here are the two basic positions you can take on the mound before delivering a perfect sinker pitch:
- Windup: In a windup, the pitcher should stand facing the batter with their pivot foot on the pitching rubber. After placing their pivot foot, the pitcher can either take a step back towards second base, take a step to either side of the pitcher mound, or pretend to throw to base.
- Stretch: In a stretch position, the pitcher directs their body and feet towards third base but faces home plate. In this pitching stance, the pitch is begun after the pitcher brings the ball and their hands up in front of their body. Pitchers can either deliver the ball with a high kick stance or with a quick slide step.
Is the Windup or the Stretch Better for Throwing the Perfect Sinker Pitch?
It really is down to the preference of the pitcher. Some pitchers will be able to throw a fastball more consistently from a windup, while others will do better from a stretch and set. The best idea is to practice throwing a sinker pitch in both positions multiple times until you figure out which one is more effective for you.
And even after you find the pitching position that’s best for you, chances are you’ll need to practice from both positions to be an effective pitcher. You wouldn’t want to be throwing from the windup with runners on base!
Advantages of Throwing a Sinker Pitch
There are several reasons why a sinker pitch is one of the most coveted fastballs in the sport. Here are some of the advantages associated with throwing a sinker pitch:
- Sinker pitches are easy on the arm. Compared to other trick pitches like screwballs and sliders, a sinker pitch is a simple pitch that doesn’t add extra torque to either the elbow or the shoulder when throwing. This can help prevent injury to the pitcher’s arm over time.
- Sinker pitches are good groundball pitches. Fly balls are the bane of the pitcher since these hits off of the batter can be difficult for players to field. In contrast, sinker pitches force the batter to hit groundballs or nothing, and groundballs are much more easily collected in the infield.
- Sinker pitches are a whiff generator. Sinker pitches are one of the best pitches for tricking the batter into going for a pitch they can’t hit. Sinker pitches are great for straight-up strikes, too.
- Sinker pitches are only slightly slower than traditional fastballs. For a pitcher that is already used to throwing a traditional fastball, adding a sinker to their lineup can help them throw an odd pitch once batters get used to their normal fastball style.
How to Keep the Batter from Anticipating a Sinker Pitch
When it comes to throwing the perfect sinker pitch, it’s not just about the pitch itself. It’s also about keeping the batter on their toes. Ground balls are a good side effect of using a sinker, but getting swinging strikes and strikeouts is a lot more lucrative and fun.
Here are some ways to keep the batter from anticipating your sinker pitch to make it more effective (Source: Youth Pitching):
- Use shock and awe with a sinker. It’s a good idea to start out a game with fastballs just to gauge the abilities of the batters on the opposite team. You might be able to get off several strikes if you catch the enemy batters off guard. When you do come across some strong batters you’re more likely to get ground outs from those sinkers than pop flies or outfield hits.
- Switch it up. While a sinker pitch is a great pitch for keeping batters on their toes, savvy batters will know your game quickly if you only know how to pitch one or two different throws. Instead, focus on increasing your repertoire of pitches so that you can swiftly change it up at the last minute to throw more skilled batters off of their groove.
- Don’t worry about perfect pitches. It sounds counterintuitive but getting too much in your head about throwing the perfect sinker pitch is a recipe for throwing mediocre sinker pitches or even wild pitches if you psyche yourself out. Instead, keep your perfectionism on the practice field and rely on muscle memory when you’re pitching in a game. Stay relaxed. You’ll throw better.
- Sinker pitches are good for when you’re down in the count. This can cause the opposing team to become cocky, which is a great way to trick batters into whiffing at sinkers that drop out of range at just the last second. Swapping to sinkers when you’re in the weeds is a good way to turn the tables and gain some momentum in the right direction when you’re losing.
- Try to keep your tells as neutral as possible when setting up. Keep in mind that the batter will be watching you for any signs that they can see to predict what type of ball you’ll throw, so when you’re winding up for the pitch, keep your grip and your stance as neutral as you can. Think of it as your baseball poker face. Don’t give the batter a heads-up on your plans.
- When the other team is down, don’t throw over the plate. A perfect sinker is designed to go over the plate and slightly inside. If you pitch directly over the plate when the other team is down in the count, their more effective batters will choke up and go for any hit they can get. Force them to go after bad pitches; don’t feed them the ball.
For throwing a perfect sinker pitch, knowing the pitch inside and out isn’t enough. You must know how to use it strategically to get the most out of it against an opposing batter.
The Break and Movement of a Sinker Pitch
When you read about baseball pitches, you’ll come across two major terms that apply to perfecting your sinker: the break and the movement. In a baseball pitch, the break (or breaking point) is the point of the pitch where the ball is released from the pitcher’s hand.
The Break of a Sinker
The harder the break on a pitch, the higher the velocity the pitch usually has. With fastballs like sinkers, a hard break determines the speed that makes it a fastball. The break on a sinker pitch is important because it determines how hard and fast the ball can come across the home plate.
This speed is important when throwing a sinker because, without speed, it can be an easy pitch to hit on. This is especially true if the sinker is thrown directly across home plate.
Movement of a Sinker
The other important aspect of how a pitch is thrown is the pitch movement. This is how the ball either drops in the air or moves horizontally as it shifts in the air after release. The different movements of the ball are what lead to curveballs, screwballs, sinkers, and other off-speed pitches. In a sinker pitch, the movement is determined by the setting of the grip and the release.
Is a Sinker a Fastball?
A sinker is a type of fastball—the name sinker is a shortened version of the term “sinking fastball.” This is one of the reasons why the grip and the release on a sinker are so similar to other types of fastball pitches, such as two-seam and four-seam fastballs.
There are four main kinds of fastballs that are used in baseball:
- Sinker fastball pitches
- Two-seam fastball pitches
- Four-seam fastball pitches
- Shuuto fastball pitches (used primarily by righthanded Japanese baseball pitchers)
Each of the different fastball pitches is alike in many ways, but they differ slightly in the way that the ball is held and in the way that the ball is released during the pitch.
It’s a good idea for pitchers to master at least a few of these different pitches to help keep their pitching style diverse and unpredictable. This can also allow them to switch strategies against tenacious batters.
Four-seam and shuuto fastball pitches are designed primarily for velocity (though a shuuto pitch also involves a high degree of movement). Two-seam fastball pitches combine velocity with some slight movement for variation over the plate. A sinker fastball is still a fastball but focuses on movement both downward and horizontally to confuse the batter.
Tips for Perfecting a Sinker Pitch
Learning how to throw a sinker pitch is only part of the challenge of throwing a perfect sinker. There are many ways that you can help improve your sinker to become more consistent in your delivery. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your sinker pitch:
- Practice, practice, practice. It’s how to get to Carnegie Hall, and it’s also how to perfect just about any technical skill on the planet, including the perfect sinker pitch. Dedicated baseball pitches should spend a lot of time practicing pitches on their own. It’s a good idea to practice with the team, too, but practicing your pitches away from prying eyes can help you focus.
- Don’t lift heavy weights. You might be tempted to lift weights to try and improve your twitch muscle mass for a high-velocity pitch release on a sinker, but lifting heavy weights will not net you many benefits when it comes to pitching. You’re more likely to accidentally injure yourself or irritate your arm muscles, which can make you pitch worse instead of better.
- Working out does help. Even though you shouldn’t go too heavy on the weight lifting side of things, working out with both strength and cardio can increase your overall physical conditioning, which in turn can allow for more balance during the dynamic movements of the pitch and also helps you maintain good posture while pitching.
- Focus on strengthening and stabilizing your rotator cuff to prevent injury. Sinkers are relatively benign pitches, but rotator cuff injuries put more baseball pitchers on the bench each year than any other injury combined, and these injuries can lead to surgery or worse. Take care of your rotor cuff by performing isometric and rhythmic stabilization exercises. (Source: Stack)
- Practice your stance and your grip before you practice release and delivery. The goal is to come up with a smooth, consistent pitching movement so that you can focus on the break and release of the ball for the sinker. Breaking down the pitch into individual components can help you get a feel for where your weak points are so you can improve them.
- Change it up. Along with learning how to throw a perfect sinker, you should also work on learning enough other pitches that if you come across a batter who is aggressively hitting your pitches, you have enough control over the ball to choose a different placement over the plate and throw it consistently.
- Visualize where you want the ball to end up. In baseball, the mental game is a large part of the game. Science has shown that visualization drastically improves athletic performance. (Source: Orthology) Once you’ve felt and seen yourself deliver a perfect sinker, try to absorb that experience and recreate it in your mind just before each pitch.
- Don’t waste pitches. It can be tempting to throw outside of the strike zone when your team is ahead, but wasting pitches is a good way to accidentally walk the batter, and suddenly the entire balance of the game is shifted. Instead, try to throw your most powerful pitch every time you come to the mound. Make the batter work for it and want to swing.
- Don’t be afraid to hit the batter. Pitching a sinker can be intimidating to some pitchers since it focuses on pitching the ball hard and fast on the inside, which many pitchers can interpret as endangering the batter. With enough control from the pitcher, the batter will be fine. Don’t worry about the batter. Focus on controlling the ball first, and the rest will take care of itself.
If you’re trying to throw the perfect sinker pitch, you’ll need to do more than perfect the pitch itself. You’ll need to work at being a better pitcher in general.
Sinker Pitches Are the Perfect Ploy for Pesky Batters
Sinker pitches can be difficult to pull off consistently but learning how to do it can add a powerful weapon to any pitcher’s arsenal. It might take some practice to get good at the perfect sinker pitch, but taking it on will bring your pitching game to the next level.