The terms “two-seamer” and “sinker” are synonymous. Or are they? It depends on who you ask — and even then, there’s ambiguity in the answer. If an exercise in semantics is what you’re after, pursuing this subject with a cross section of pitchers and pitching coaches might be a good place to start.
I learned that over the past week. Prompted in part by Alex Stumpf’s article, The Death of the Sinker , I solicited the opinions of 12 — four from each team — members of the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. Here’s what they had to say.
Brian Bannister, Red Sox assistant pitching coach: “It’s basically the same grip, but for some power pitchers, it’s kind of a variation on the four-seamer with a little more arm-side movement; it’s really a derivative of their four-seamer. For other guys, it’s their bread-and-butter pitch where they’re trying to get the hitter to hit the top half of the ball. For some guys it misses more bats, and for other guys the purpose is to get ground balls.
“It depends on how your arm works and how your hand works through the ball. For some, it’s really more of a two-plane fastball. For others, it really goes down. Guys like Jake Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard, and Michael Fulmer throw two-seamers that end up above barrel, whereas with your Trevor Cahills and Dallas Keuchels, it ends up below barrel.”
Tony Barnette, Texas Rangers pitcher: “If you include the shuuto, there are actually three versions of the two-seamer. If you talk to the Japanese guys, it’s a real pitch. Over there, they practice it and work with it. The shuutu is more side to side, a sinker is more downwards, and a two-seamer is kind of in between.
“It depends on who throws it, and how they throw it, but I think it’s basically the same pitch. It all has to do with movement, not the grip. Some sinkers and two-seamers have different action, while others have the same.”
Doug Brocail, Texas Rangers pitching coach: “It depends on what you want to do with it. I’ve preached both. If you’re going to throw the two-seamer, you can sink it, and/or you can fade it away. So it’s two pitches in one. The grip is the same, it’s how you finish the pitch. A lot of guys, it will run away from their head a little bit, and get more lateral, east-west movement. Or it will be more, I guess, follow-through finish where we’re getting our pronation, so we can get sink.
“One is a runner, and one is a sinker. A two-seamer that runs… a lot of guys throw two-seamers that don’t sink. It’s hand position, finish, if they run away from their head or not. They’re different pitches.”
Andrew Cashner, Texas Rangers pitcher: “They’re the same thing. I don’t think there’s any difference. It’s a two-seam grip that sinks. I get arm-side run on my four-seam, but I I don’t want it on my sinker. It’s a placement pitch — I learned mine a few years ago —and it’s also a feel pitch.”
Mike Hampton, Seattle Mariners bullpen coach: “Some guys have a sinker, and some guys have a two-seamer that runs. You hold them the same way, but some guys are able to create some depth in their sinker, where some guys have more run in their two-seamer. So they’re basically the same pitch, but guys get different movement.
“I think it’s hand position and finish. And you have some guys that just naturally sink; it’s built in mechanically. Having a natural sinker like Marc Rzepczynski has, compared to say James Pazos; he has more run on the ball, at a higher velo. Same pitch, but it does different things. Mine was definitely a sinker. Mine had bottom, had depth.It was something that would go beneath the barrel.”
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners pitcher: “I throw a two-seamer, but that’s the same as a sinker. They do the same thing. If you’re a righty, it can go in to righties a little. Two-seamers sometimes run, but mine is a good sinker, because it sinks a lot. Still, same pitch.”
Nick Martinez, Texas Rangers pitcher: “I think they’re the same. Maybe a sinker has more downward action, and a two-seamer has a little run to it? I throw a sinker. My ball will occasionally run more than it dives, but it’s not intended to.
“I have a certain grip I use for my sinker. The times where it runs, where it has more lateral movement than downward movement, that means I’m not getting on top of the ball.”
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox pitcher: “It’s just a two-seam grip. It’s the same pitch. If I throw it right it will sink and run, although sometimes it just runs. Mechanically, I know where I have to be to make it sink, and it’s always a battle to be consistent with that. I’m trying to make it sink and have a certain shape to it.
“Sometimes, if I throw it in a certain location, it’s OK if it just runs. If I’m trying to throw a front-door two-seamer to a left-handed hitter, it doesn’t necessarily have to sink. I just want it to have that late run, into the zone, because I’m not necessarily trying to generate a swing off of it. I’m trying to freeze a hitter.
“Sometimes I’ll move my thumb around to get it to sink a little more. If I don’t want to throw it as hard, I’ll slide my thumb up, so that I can’t put as much on it. But for the most part, I throw it pretty much the same.”
David Price, Boston Red Sox pitcher: “I think they’re the same. Whenever you throw a two-seam right, it’s going to have sink to it. You don’t want just lateral movement. You want vertical. That’s what misses bats. Lateral movement doesn’t necessarily miss the bat. But even if you’re not trying to miss the miss the bat, you’re trying to miss the barrel. You want as much controlled movement as you can. Having that pitch going down gives you a better opportunity to hit the bottom of the bat and produce that ground ball.
“If I had to say [what I throw], I would call it a two-seamer. I’ve never really classified it as a sinker. But again, if you throw it right, it’s going to go down. I think the two-seamer and the sinker are the same pitch.”
Mark Rzepczynski, Seattle Mariners pitcher: “It’s the same pitch. I’ve always thrown a two-seamer, and with my arm angle, the ball just naturally sinks. It kind of sinks and runs. I call it a sinker, because it goes down, but it’s always been a two-seamer.
“When I land more toward home, the ball sinks. When I fly open, it runs. It’s kind of how my delivery is that day. Sometimes it runs more than I want it to, and sometimes it sinks more than I want it to. It depends on my mechanics.”
Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners manager: “Most sinkers are thrown with two seams, although some guys actually throw a one-seam sinker, or a no-seam sinker. But I should probably defer to pitching coaches on this, because there are a lot of different ways to teach the sinker.
“I did [catch pitchers who threw two-seamers that didn’t sink], and they usually got hit, because they were flat. It was more of a runner, and you need to have the ball sink below the barrel. If it stays on plane, even with a little run, they don’t miss it.”
Carl Willis, Boston Red Sox pitching coach: “There are guys who throw fastballs with two seams that don’t necessarily sink the ball. Some guys will get more run, or lateral action, as opposed to that true sinker that’s going to have that little bit of late depth. There is a difference.
“Most guys who sink the baseball do throw two-seam fastballs, but depending on your arm action, your arm angle, and your hand position, the action can vary. It’s not really the same pitch.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.