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Alternative ideas about the disappearance of the sinker.

Earlier this month, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote about a global trend in pitching throughout MLB. Pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs (as a percentage of total pitches) than ever before, at least for the decade during which we have reliable data. What Sullivan found is that, while it’s true when considering fastballs as an undifferentiated set, it really doesn’t capture the whole truth. He looked at Pitch Info, which (correctly) tags four-seam and two-seam fastballs (the latter often being called, and being called from here onward in this piece, sinkers) as separate pitches, and found that the loss of fastballs is almost all sinkers.

The league is increasingly selecting for pitchers who use four-seam heat to work up in the zone, frustrating batters’ efforts to attack the ball on an uphill plane and get it in the air—or at least, that’s the theory Sullivan puts forward for the shift. I mostly agree. There’s no doubt in my mind that the move toward four-seamers and away from sinkers is at least partially in response to batters making changes geared toward handling those sinkers, and punishing them. (Recall that, as recently as 2013-2014, Ray Searage’s Pirates were at the cutting edge of run prevention because they so consistently pounded hitters with sinkers that ran in on their hands or nipped the bottom of the strike zone; there has been ample incentive for batters to adjust in turn.)

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Kendall from Alex City had better baseball connections when he was a kid than he realized, and lessons learned half a lifetime ago are fueling his success for the A's.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kendall Graveman struggled at first to remember the name of the man who taught him the grip for his best pitch, a sinking fastball. It’s kind of a funny story, learning to grip what has become one of the most effective pitches in the majors, from a man who today coaches the hitters for a junior-college softball team, who also in part learned about the importance of finger strength from conversations with a national-champion arm wrestler. It all sounds so over the top, but it's true: You just never know how wisdom will get passed along between generations.

About the coach’s name. After being given a moment to think, does Graveman remember?

“I do ...” Graveman said, his face grimacing as the mental wheels turned. “I don’t. It was at Central Alabama Community College. Heck, he may still be there. It’s a junior college in my hometown.

“We didn’t have a lot of connections in Alexander City.”

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April 13, 2017 1:49 am

Feature Article


David Brown

Kendall from Alex City had better baseball connections when he was a kid than he realized, and lessons learned half a lifetime ago are fueling his success for the Oakland Athletics.

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Shining a spotlight on the minor mental mistakes and successes that often go overlooked.

There was an axiom tossed about when I was in college, one that I and my other bench-warming teammates were only too happy to co-opt, which held that the dumber you were, the better you played. In other words, the less intelligent a player was, and the less he had going on in his mind (colloquially, the less "in his own head" he was), the more focused he'd be on playing to the best of his abilities. Some rebutted that we spent too much free time during games coming up with theories about why we weren't playing, but you get the idea.

The big leaguers we see on TV have found a way to circumvent this problem, if it even exists. Nevertheless, there remains a mental aspect of the game that often goes ignored, both by sabermetricians (because it's nearly impossible to measure) and by the players themselves (because these mistakes are usually too small to affect their club's opinion of them). I don't mean visualization or Pedro Cerrano's Jobu doll or Turk Wendell's animal tooth necklace—I'm talking about the nuts-and-bolts logic of baseball that, when ignored, costs teams outs and runs, which eventually cost them games.

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