Three Ways to a Super Sinker

Try to imagine the ideal sinker. What do you see? Probably a pitch that sits in the high 90s, right? And features tremendous sink and fade. And induces ground ball after ground ball. And, because it’s being thrown with max effort, probably one coming out of a reliever’s hand, right?

If you’re imagining a pitch that meets all four of those criteria, you probably see Blake Treinen throwing it. Or Sam Dyson. Or Zach Britton. If not, you should be.

If you limit the pool of commonly used sinkers to those which average 94 or more mph and then sort for sink, those three names soar to the top. And each gets to that movement in a different way.

The Top Five Sinkers in Baseball
pitcher Total Thrown Average Velo Horizontal Vertical Swinging Strike% GB%
Zach Britton 599 96.3 7.4 4.0 18.9% 79.6%
Sam Dyson 357 95.3 -8.8 3.5 5.6% 70.7%
Blake Treinen 424 95.2 -9.7 3.3 5.7% 68.4%
Carlos Martinez 564 95.2 -9.7 3.6 3.9% 69.4%
Jeff Samardzija 324 94.3 -10.0 3.6 6.8% 76.2%
Minimum 300 thrown, 94 mph average, sorted for sink, and then top five re-sorted for velocity.

Two righties and a lefty, and three different ways to similar super sinkers.

We talked to Zach Britton once about his, and he said that the way he got such great sink was his unique grip on the ball. “I try not to pronate or manipulate the pitch at all,” he said last year. That grip was supposed to teach him a cutter, and Britton admitted that his slider comes from the same grip, he just tucks his thumb under for more depth. So there’s our first way to get a super sinker: a cutter grip.

Britton’s sinker grip.

It’s interesting that Britton mentioned his thumb there, because when I asked Sam Dyson earlier this year how he gripped the ball, he said that it was a normal sinker grip, but with his thumb tucked under. No pictures, though. “That’s weird, dude,” he grunted at the time. “I’m going to go work out.”

This is something we’ve heard from other pitchers. Max Scherzer gets three inches more fade and an inch more drop than most four-seamers on his four-seam grip by tucking the thumb under. Dan Warthen told us that the way to manipulate the drop on his branded slider was to tuck the thumb under more.

So one of our super sinkers is the product of a cutter grip without the thumb tucked; another, the sinker grip with the thumb tucked. Our third? Let’s go to the video, thanks to Dan Kolko.

If you freeze the frame with his grip in it, it looks like Treinen has a lot in common with Britton, actually. He says he takes a normal sinker grip and tilts it a bit, so that one of his fingers is along the seam. A variant on the one-seam fastball, you might call it.

Treinen’s sinker grip.

Actually, Treinen sorta calls it that. “A one-seam? Yeah, that’s like mine. Mine might not be as much along that seam, though,” he told me last week before a game against the Giants.

There’s good reason he didn’t manipulate his thumb to get the movement. He couldn’t tuck his thumb under. “I pretty much almost cut my thumb off as a kid,” Treinen said, before demonstrating the lack of flex he has in his thumb ligaments. “I didn’t know any different, I just naturally had to deal with it,” he responded when I raised an eyebrow at his wonky thumb.

The injury actually led concretely to his version of the sinker: “My thumb naturally fits right there, so when I was a kid and I got one of those balls with the finger placements on it, the ball fit a little bit differently than it was supposed to, and I noticed that people weren’t getting hits off it any more.”

This Treinen sinker went 96 and had “changeup movement” according to the broadcast team.

In that video, you’ll hear Treinen say that “we’re all different.” And that really matters when it comes to arm slot, which has a lot to do with movement. Look at these pitchers, and they’re pretty different when it comes to arm slot.

Top Sinker Arm Slots
Pitcher Release Point Height Height True Release Height
Zach Britton 77 75 2.3
Blake Treinen 75 77 -1.9
Sam Dyson 66 73 -6.5
All heights in inches.

Britton is the most over-the-top, which is mostly associated with vertical movement — perhaps his cutter grip gives him the horizontal movement while his arm slot gives him drop. Treinen is more like him than he is like Dyson. Treinen’s grip is more like Britton’s than it is like Dyson’s. Dyson gets more horizontal movement from his lower arm slot, so his tucked thumb can provide the drop. This isn’t quite a science, yet, but these things are based in the above-linked research.

So, it matters where your arm likes to sit naturally. Are you over-the-top? Try a one-seam variant on the sinker, and twist the ball a little. Get some fade. Is your arm slot a little further down? Mess with your thumb and find some sink. We can’t guarantee that you’ll get a sinker like these guys, but at least you’ll be guided by the best three sinkers in the game.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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“Mess with your thumb and find some sink.” I had never heard about Treinen messing up his thumb as a kid, but it seems to have paid off in sink. Kind of like Bob Wickman’s missing fingertip adding tons of movement on his two-seamer.


Or Antonio Alfonseca’s extra finger, which gave him a nasty change-up.


Mike Scott had a nasty splitter after learning to tuck a nail file up his sleeve.


I read that Alfonseca’s extra finger didn’t help his pitches at all.