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Why the Mets are trying to bring back the sinker, a pitch that went out of fashion

NEW YORK – In the aftermath of his near-zero performance against the Chicago Cubs last week, Luis Severino was asked if he was back to being the pitcher he used to be.

“I think I’m in a different position right now,” Severino said. “I used to think too much about killing everyone when I was younger. Right now I’m just focusing on getting people out there and getting deep into the game. It’s more important to throw innings than strike out everyone.”

For Severino, this change in mentality manifests itself specifically through one pitch. His sinker.

Severino had thrown 62 sinkers in his career before this season. He now throws it just under 17 percent of the time.

“Just to have that pitch in my pocket that can help me get a groundball out here, get a double play, get out an inning with one pitch instead of striking out two,” he said. “I was just thinking about how I can be more productive and save more pitches.”

Severino is not alone.

No team has expanded their use of sinkers in 2024 as much as the New York Mets. Some of that can be explained by the pitchers New York added in the offseason. A greater part of this can be attributed to the emphasis on a pitch that had previously fallen out of favor in the sport and which the club believes is on the verge of making a comeback.


A decade and a half ago, the sinker was a prominent weapon throughout the league. Brandon Webb won a Cy Young Award with his sinker. Scott Kazmir has dominated opposing lineups year after year with his sinker. Ubaldo Jiménez threw a 99 mph backdoor sinker that was called the best pitch ever by the game broadcast and multiple online publications. The Pittsburgh Pirates built a pitching pipeline on the back of the sinker.

But in the latter half of the past decade, the pitch fell victim to the launch angle revolution in the batter’s box. As more hitters tailor their swings to get the ball in the air — and specifically to drive zone pitches into the air as sinkers — the pitch fell out of favor. Pitching became less common in the sport, with more and more pitchers adapting their repertoires to include high-ride, four-seam fastballs in the zone. Gerrit Cole went from a good pirate to a great Astro by making that switch.

Nearly a decade after you first heard about the launch angle, the Mets see an opportunity for a response.

“The hitters have responded and adjusted to get on top of the fastball, so once they start making that adjustment, the sinker opens up again,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “It’s just a natural cycle of the game because of the way the hitters are trying to get on top of the heater now.”

To that end, the Mets have nearly doubled the frequency of sinkers they throw in 2024. Last year, New York ranked 21st in the sport in sinker percentage; this year it ranks fourth. No team has increased their sinker usage, by any percentage point or percentage point, more than the Mets.

MLB sinker usage, 2023-2024

Team

2023

2024

Δ Pct Pt

Δ St

12.9

25.3

12.4

96.1%

7.2

14.1

6.9

95.8%

11.3

16.5

5.2

46.0%

14.8

20.0

5.2

35.1%

7.1

9.4

2.3

32.4%

15.0

19.8

4.8

32.0%

20.2

26.2

6.0

29.7%

22.4

28.0

5.6

25.0%

5.7

6.8

1.1

19.3%

11.7

13.9

2.2

18.8%

10.3

11.6

1.3

12.6%

11.3

12.4

1.1

9.7%

15.1

16.5

1.4

9.3%

17.8

18.9

1.1

6.2%

16.0

16.7

0.7

4.4%

12.9

13.3

0.4

3.1%

24.7

24.3

-0.4

-1.6%

28.1

27.6

-0.5

-1.8%

17.3

16.7

-0.6

-3.5%

21.5

19.2

-2.3

-10.7%

21.6

18.9

-2.7

-12.5%

13.4

11.6

-1.8

-13.4%

11.0

9.5

-1.5

-13.6%

17.0

14.6

-2.4

-14.1%

22.4

17.9

-4.5

-20.1%

7.5

5.8

-1.7

-22.7%

13.1

10.1

-3.0

-22.9%

20.5

15.8

-4.7

-22.9%

14.2

10.4

-3.8

-26.8%

18.3

11.4

-6.9

-37.7%

So Severino throws more sinkers. Sean Manaea has returned to the four-sieve sinker. Jose Quintana, José Buttó, Reed Garrett and Drew Smith – all throwing more sinkers than in the past.

Against sinkers from Buttó, Manaea and Severino, the opponents hit 16-for-97.

“We now have a better understanding of what a good sinker is,” Hefner said. “You need depth or running, and it’s different for every guy. Buttó’s will run a bit more, Reed’s will be more vertical with a bit more depth. Then you just try to identify guys in the game where that works well, and you throw it.

Manaea’s sinker is all about running down the arm – about horizontally expanding the plate in the opposite direction of his sweeping slider. Severino changed the grip on his sinker last season, spreading out his fingers to get more depth on the field.

That’s how he’s gotten his groundball rate to over 55 percent — 10 percentage points higher than his career rate at the start of the season.

“Last year I noticed I lost some ride on my fastball. Someday, if I go out there and my fastball isn’t elite, I can at least go in a heavy two-seam and get a lineup out,” Severino said. “The more pitches you have, the less predictable you are.”

While Hefner said the Mets don’t have an “overarching organizational theme that we’re going to throw some more sinkers,” it has become a go-to solution for the staff lately.

“A lot of things have to go right for a rainforest to thrive. That is similar to pitch use. There could be one thing missing from their repertoire,” Hefner said. “Because guys haven’t been throwing sinkers, that’s usually where we go, just because hitters hadn’t seen as many sinkers in recent years. Maybe that will provide a small advantage.”

Once a pitcher has developed a viable sinker, the next step is deploying it at the right time.

“What (we) talked about a lot is giving guys tools for their tool belts,” Hefner said. “I’m facing this batter, the scoreboard says this: What pitch should I throw? This potentially gives me a quick out, it allows me to dive deeper into games or pitch a back-to-back.”

Just look at how Severino approached Chicago’s Christopher Morel two starts ago. Known for his free swing, Morel faced infield sinkers over three at-bats against Severino. He grounded out twice and blooped into a double play; he made four outs in five pitches.

“Even if (a ground ball) gets through, that’s positive in our minds,” Hefner said. “When we get the ground ball, that’s what the field is designed for. It is not designed to swing back and forth.”

The results across the board were mixed for the Mets. On a per-pitch basis, their sinkers are slightly less effective than last year, though a lot of that is due to the issues with Adrian Houser’s heavy arsenal. It was a critical pitch especially for Manaea, Severino and Smith.

“I still have some fields and locations to work on,” Severino said. “But right now I’m very happy with where they are.”

(Photo by Luis Severino: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)