With the spread of the novel coronavirus delaying the start of Major League Baseball's 2020 season, we have plenty of time to ponder life's big questions. Rather than do that, we've decided to use this interim period to rank things -- like, say, the best pitches in baseball. Over the next week, we'll be highlighting pitchers who offer quality renditions of five different pitch types:and two-seam fastballs, sliders, curveballs, and changeups. That process continues today, with two-seam fastballs.
Here's how this will work. In each article, we'll touch on five pitchers: the three best; a "best kept secret," whose offering is underappreciated for some reason; and "who's next?" or a pitch that belongs to a prospect but could someday top the field.
A fair and valid question to ask is: well, how did we come up with these rankings? The simple answer is that we used a combination of analytics and observations. The more complex answer -- and the one tailored specifically for two-seam fastballs or sinkers, whichever you prefer -- is that we prioritized a couple of attributes, starting with velocity and sink. We also required that the pitch was usable -- that means the pitcher could locate their fastball well enough for its innate characteristics to matter.
It should be clear by now that these rankings are objective by nature. We're not pretending these are gospel handed down from above, and we're fine if people want to swap in other pitchers as they see fit. There are more than three good practitioners of any given pitch, folks.
With all that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let's rank some freaking two-seam fastballs.
The three best
Hicks was limited to 28 innings last season before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Provided he makes a full recovery, he'll continue to possess one of the nastiest pitches in the game: a high-velocity, low-spin monster that batters can't help but to launch into the dirt.
According to Baseball Savant, Hicks threw his sinker an average of 101 mph last season. What's more is that opponents hit .183 against it. For his career, he's allowed just three home runs on 1,226 sinkers, with a slugging percentage below .300.
Add it all together -- the innate characteristics and the outstanding results -- and that's reason enough for us to give Hicks' two-seamer the top spot. Take a look at some choice highlights:
You can't make one of these lists without including Britton. He threw his sinker nearly 90 percent of the time last season and generated grounders on 77 percent of those that were put into play, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Opposing hitters batted .207 against Britton's sinker, and were able to slug just .291. Meanwhile, they came up empty on 23.5 percent of their swings taken against it -- one of the dozen or so highest clips in the majors.
We'll leave Britton with one more statistic: he's generated double plays on more than 20 percent of his opportunities since joining the Yankees midseason 2018. (For reference, the league-average clip tends to be around 11 percent.) It's not hard to see why, either.
In the end, we decided to give the third spot to Bummer, one of the game's most underrated relievers.
Bummer, who was inspired by old videos of Britton to learn a sinker, used his mimicry to great effect last season. His sinker held opponents to a .195 average and a .268 slugging percentage. He also missed bats on 16 percent of the swings taken against it. The only sinkerballers who generated a higher groundball rate, meanwhile, were Britton and ....
The best kept secret
We sung the praises of Kolarek during October, when he was the Dodgers' designated get-Juan-Soto-out guy. We noted at that time that his "sinker sits in the upper-80s" yet that he had "generated nearly 70 percent groundballs." Here's another stat worth passing along: Kolarek's two-seamer generated nearly 16 grounders per flyball, according to Baseball Prospectus. And one more: his sinker had the second most "drop" among all pitchers, only behind Adam Cimber. We're not saying he has the best sinker, but we are saying that Kolarek deserves a little shine before the three-batter minimum threatens his career.
Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers
We'll stick with the Dodgers for this part. May has the chance to become a lot of people's favorite pitcher in the coming years thanks to his hairdo, his pitching acumen, and his potential for three high-quality pitches, including his sinker.
May's two-seamer clocked in at 96 mph on average last season, and he held opponents to a .239 average against it. Believe it or not, it wasn't his most effective fastball variation -- that would be his cutter. Even so, it was more than good enough to land him this spot.