Welcome to the pitch review series, where I’m taking a look at the best pitches of each pitch type from 2021! Today, we’re taking a look at the top five sinkers from last year!
If you’d like some more details on this series, take a look at the top five changeups article (and also just in case you want to see some pretty awesome changeups). And also check out the other articles in the series so far, including:
Anyways, here are the top five sinkers from 2021!
Those Brewers man, they’ve got some pitchers. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll notice that so far there have been a lot of Brewers on these lists, and for good reason—they’ve got some great pitchers.
Brandon Woodruff is no exception. Last year, Woodruff pitched to the tune of a 2.56 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 3.31 SIERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 29.8% strikeout rate over 179.1 innings. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems good.
Woodruff’s sinker may have been his best pitch by pVAL last year, but in my opinion, it works so well because it’s used in concert with an excellent repertoire. In fact, not a single pitch Woodruff threw last year posted a negative pVAL, a feat he nearly also accomplished in 2020 had his curveball (which he only threw 79 times) not posted a -0.9 pVAL.
Woodruff’s sinker doesn’t work as a strikeout pitch, and it doesn’t need to, because the rest of his repertoire does that instead. His sinker, on the other hand, is great at inducing weak contact, as the pitch posted a .282 wOBA and .075 ISO against last year.
Alongside his sinker comes a fastball that posted some ridiculous swing-and-miss numbers last year, with a 30.4% chase rate and 14.9% SwStr rate, as well as a curveball that’s mainly a weak contact-inducing pitch (.152 wOBA and .069 ISO against last year) but does still get some strikeouts (39.3% strikeout rate last year).
And complementing those are a changeup that posted a pretty sick 39.2% chase rate and 21.5% SwStr rate last year, and a slider that also posted some solid numbers (34.7% chase rate, 14.4% SwStr rate).
That’s a lot of numbers but basically, the short version of this is: Woodruff has a deep repertoire and just about every pitch it in serves a specific purpose and serves that purpose very well.
Brandon Woodruff is the bomb-diggity.
Initially, I wanted to start this off calling Sandy Alcantara’s 2021 season one of the nicest surprises of the year, but now thinking about it, it really wasn’t all that much of a surprise.
The potential has always been there—coming into 2021 he had three-straight seasons with a sub-4 ERA (though, yes, 2018 saw just 34 innings and 2020 saw just 42). The stuff has generally been there, and thankfully he put it all together last year, posting a 3.19 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 3.68 SIERA alongside a 1.07 WHIP and 24% strikeout rate over 205.2 innings.
A large part of that success is owed to this sinker. It’s always been a good pitch, but last year it really came into its own, posting a .276 wOBA and .129 ISO against alongside a solid 33.1% chase rate and 9.1% SwStr rate, all culminating in a career-best 16.5 pVAL.
What really pushed Alcantara over the edge, in my opinion, is two things—him using his four-seamer less, and the effectiveness of his slider. It became his second most-thrown pitch last year and posted the best swing-and-miss numbers it ever has, with a 34.8% chase rate and 18.2% SwStr rate.
Alcantara isn’t going to blow you away with strikeouts, but he’ll get enough to be effective and is good at limiting hard contact. If this sinker continues being the pitch it was last year alongside his slider and changeup, I’d expect plenty more success from him.
This is actually the second time Wainwright has been featured in this series, as he popped onto the top five curveballs list too. As I mentioned in that article, it’s kind of wild that Wainwright sort of came back out of nowhere to be a really good pitcher again. We saw some signs of it in 2020, but his 3.15 ERA came with a 4.11 FIP and was in just 65.2 innings, so you could easily write it off as a small sample size.
But joke’s on all of us, because the 40-year-old figured he’d screw around and throw over 200 innings with an ERA just barely above 3.00.
A large part of it was the previously-mentioned curveball (which looked beautiful as ever), but another large part was this sinker. It wasn’t blazing fast by any stretch (just 89.4 MPH on average), nor did it get many whiffs, but it was great at inducing weak contact, with a .226 wOBA and .050 ISO against.
I’m extremely curious to see if Wainwright is able to repeat some of his success this year. He’s not the most exciting fantasy asset, but he’s definitely useful.
What an interesting year for Ranger Suárez. Since he showed up in the league, Suárez has generally been a reliever, and for the most part, that’s exactly what he was last year.
The main difference though, is that Suárez got to start 12 games last year, beginning at the start of August, and the guy was awesome. Through those 12 starts (65.2 innings), Suárez had a 1.51 ERA, 2.35 FIP, and a 25% strikeout rate.
Suárez throws his sinker a lot (about 45% of the time) and then evenly mixes in his changeup and four-seamer with a slider every now and then. And you know what? It works.
Not a single pitch in his repertoire had a wOBA against worse than .261 or an ISO against worse than .126 (those were both on his changeup). The sinker worked beautifully, with a .234 wOBA against and .040 ISO against, and his changeup worked well as a strikeout pitch, with a 36.2% chase rate and 19.9% SwStr rate.
I’m extremely curious as to what we’ll see from Suárez this year. I’d imagine he’s earned his way into the Phillies’ rotation (how could he not with that run last year?) and if this sinker/fastball/changeup combo continues to work well, he could be a pretty solid pitcher.
That said, I’m not seeing the wipeout numbers I’d hope for from his changeup, and I do worry that he really only has one putaway pitch (his slider’s numbers were decent but not great). But other pitchers have succeeded with just a quality two-pitch combo, and Suárez is still young, so he’s definitely someone to watch.
For the past three years, Adrian Houser’s sinker has been among the best in the league, but this year was different. This year, Houser had the third-highest pVAL in all of baseball with this pitch, at 25.6.
Houser’s sinker has never really been a strikeout pitch, but it’s exceptional at inducing weak contact, posting a .271 wOBA and .059 ISO against last year. All in all, hitters had a .207/.314/.266 line against the pitch.
That sinker is Houser’s lifeline too, because the rest of his repertoire leaves something to be desired. He’s got four other pitches—a curveball, four-seamer, changeup, and slider, and none of them are particularly good.
None of his pitches had a chase rate better than 23.8% (which is really bad for your curveball and slider) and his slider had his best SwStr rate at 12.6%.
As for contact against, his fastball, changeup, and slider all had an ISO against worse than .200, and every pitch in his repertoire aside from his sinker had a wOBA against of at least .304.
Houser is a man with one phenomenal pitch and a bunch of mediocre-to-bad pitches, which makes his 3.22 ERA from last year pretty suspect in my opinion. To me, Houser looks more like a guy who’d post closer to his 4.33 FIP or 4.73 SIERA, and given his ADP as of this writing is near 400, it seems like everyone else agrees.
Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)