Why the Mets are trying to bring back the sinker, a pitch that fell out of style

NEW YORK — In the wake of his near no-hit performance against the Chicago Cubs last week, Luis Severino was asked if he was back to the pitcher he used to be.

“I think I’m in a different position right now,” Severino said. “Before, when I was a little younger, I was thinking too much about striking everybody out. Right now, I’m just focused on getting people out and getting deep into the game. It’s more important to throw innings than to strike everybody out.”

For Severino, that shift in mindset manifests through one pitch, specifically. His sinker.

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

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

Severino isn’t alone.

No team has increased its sinker usage in 2024 like the New York Mets. Some of that can be explained by the pitchers New York added in the offseason. More of it can be attributed to an emphasis on a pitch that had previously fallen out of favor across the sport and that the club thinks is about to make a comeback.

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

But in the second half of the past decade, the pitch fell victim to the launch-angle revolution in the batter’s box. With more hitters tailoring their swings to get the ball in the air — and specifically, to drive pitches down in the zone like sinkers, in the air — the pitch fell out of favor. It was thrown less and less in the sport, with more and more pitchers altering their repertoires to incorporate high-ride four-seam fastballs up 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 of launch angle, the Mets see an opportunity for a response.

“The hitters have responded and adjusted to getting on top of the fastball, so once they started making that adjustment, that opens the sinker back up,” 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’re throwing in 2024. Last year, New York ranked 21st in the sport in the percentage of pitches that were sinkers; this year, it ranks fourth. No team has increased its usage of the sinker, by either a percentage or a percentage points basis, more than the Mets.

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