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Cardinals Sinkers: The Ugly

In the final installment of my sinker series, I take a look at how three sinkers with great movement have been among the worst sinkers on the team.

MLB: JUN 28 Marlins at Cardinals

Hey guys! I’ve returned after a brief hiatus to bring you all the final article in my sinker series. There can’t be a good and a bad without and ugly, right? I thought I was done with this series after The Bad, but I’m back with another trio of sinkers to analyze.

I’ve covered most of the sinkers at this point, so I just want to focus on three pitchers in this article - T.J. McFarland, Aaron Brooks, and Dakota Hudson. We’ll glean some information from the first two before really digging into Hudson, the groundball machine himself.

If you want to read the first two articles in this series and you haven’t yet, I’ve linked “The Good” here and “The Bad” here. This piece will build on the ideas of the previous two articles.

I know that Brooks is in Triple-A (and not pitching particularly well) and McFarland’s time may well be winding down, so I’ll keep my dialogue on those two short. They do pair well with Dakota Hudson, who can be considered part of “The Ugly” for a different reason. I’ll spend most of my time discussing Hudson, because he’s really the interesting one.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the final piece of this series.

Here’s the table for the ugly sinkers, ordered by the order I will cover them in.

The Ugly Sinkers

Pitcher Run Value wOBA xwOBA Usage
Pitcher Run Value wOBA xwOBA Usage
T.J. McFarland 8 0.407 0.391 61.5%
Aaron Brooks 4 0.572 0.577 25.3%
Dakota Hudson 5 0.391 0.420 37.6%

The thing about all three of these sinkers is that they all have bad results despite above average movement. That’s why they fit into a group together.

T.J. McFarland

I’ll start our discussion of T.J. McFarland with this beauty.

Now, I don’t want to give anything away, but keep this image in mind when we start talking about Dakota Hudson.

When someone’s Statcast page looks this bad, and they throw a single pitch over 60% of the time, it’s a good bet that pitch is terrible. That would be the case for T.J. McFarland and his 61.5% usage sinker which has been absolutely hammered this year.

I would say that it’s a bad pitch but it was great last year and nothing has really changed about it. There’s not really a great way to explain it other than by saying that relievers are volatile and that McFarland has had a few successful years but he’s never been that good.

My suspicion is that location has played a huge role in his decline this year. It’s hard (and not super helpful) to analyze a pitch by itself because a pitcher’s whole arsenal is connected.

Let’s take a look at what I mean.

Here’s where McFarland throws his sinker.

Now, here’s his changeup location.

And finally, his slider.

Notice how everything is in the same spot? That makes it pretty easy for a hitter because all he has to do is look at one region of the zone to be ready for everything. This is a bit different from last season.

Don’t get me wrong. McFarland has basically always lived at the bottom of the zone with everything, but here’s his sinker location last season.

Notice how he pitched more to his arm side last year. That added a little bit of variety to his pitch location. The hitter couldn’t just sit on one location last year. The whole bottom of the zone was used, and McFarland even went a bit up occasionally. I imagine that made a difference, whereas now he just throws low and glove side with everything.

To add to that, not only is the location of his pitches the same, but so is the movement of them.

McFarland Movement Profile

Pitch Spin Based Observed Vertical Movement (inches) Horizontal Movement (inches) Usage
Pitch Spin Based Observed Vertical Movement (inches) Horizontal Movement (inches) Usage
Sinker 9:45 9:00 34.3 17.5 61.5%
Changeup 9:30 8:45 40.6 14.9 23.3%
Slider 4:00 4:30 46.4 5.0 15.1%

So everything moves the same and lands in the same spot. Maybe I’m oversimplifying a bit. Everything doesn’t move the exact same, 85% of his pitches move the exact same.

Take a look at his movement profile.

There’s only the slightest of differences between the sinker and the changeup when it comes to location, spin, and movement. That means it basically all comes down to changing speed. And that clearly hasn’t been enough.

Even when it comes to McFarland’s slider, it may move differently but it still end in the same spot. A hitter can just zero in on the low and glove side location and wait for a pitch to land there. That doesn’t exactly help his sinker.

To make things even worse, when McFarland does come up in the zone with his sinker a little, he throws it down the middle. His 8.6% sinker meatball rate is well above the 7.2% league average meatball rate. Again, not a great recipe for success with the pitch.

Aaron Brooks

So, Aaron Brooks has thrown exactly 39 sinkers at the MLB level this year, so I’m not even going to try to go into why his sinker is bad. It’s quite possible (and even likely) that Brooks is just bad. I mean he got hammered in the majors and he’s been hammered in Triple-A.

Between the small sample size and the fact that he’s probably never going to be in St. Louis again, I won’t bore you all with an in-depth analysis of a pitcher without statistically significant data who you probably aren’t interested in anyway.

What is interesting is that his sinker has above average horizontal movement. It actually has above average movement in both directions, but I’m gonna focus on the horizontal direction.

Before I go any further, I want to give a shoutout to regular reader and commenter BigJawnMize. In the comments of my last article, The Bad, he said,

“[I] have come to believe that horizontal movement is more important to generate weak contact. Getting balls to move off the sweet spot of the bat might be more reliable than counting on vertical movement to try to generate whiffs.”

Logically, this makes sense. A lot of run can be hard to barrel up which is important for a pitch that is built for weak contact and doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs.

So, it’s interesting that both McFarland (14% above league average) and Brooks (20% above league average) have better than average run.

For the record, I agree with BigJawn. I think that horizontal movement is huge for sinkers, and so do many of the more analytically inclined organizations.

For an example, look at Brooks Raley. He came back from Korea in 2020 with an almost exactly average 15.1 inches of run. In 2021, with the Astros, he added over an inch of run and then in 2022, the Rays added another half inch. This year, the average exit velocity against his sinker is 80.7 mph. That’s soft contact. And he’s just one example.

While horizontal run is important, a good sinker needs more than that and a sinker can clearly be bad despite it. That much has been clear from my past examinations of Cardinal sinkers and it’s even clearer in the cases of McFarland and Brooks.

Dakota Hudson

Now Hudson’s sinker is the really interesting pitch of the three, in part because he actually has an important role to play this year.

Remember when I told you to remember McFarland’s Baseball Savant profile? That’s because I want you to compare it to this one.

Looks real similar to McFarland’s right? McFarland’s has a lot more dark blue, but it’s really not too much worse than Hudson’s. Somehow, Hudson has a 3.83 ERA and McFarland has a 7.43 ERA.

Like McFarland, Hudson throws a lot of sinkers, so much of his profile is determined by the pitch. His usage of the pitch has actually dropped this year, going from 48.7% in his last full season (2019) to 37.6% this year.

That may be due in part to the pitch’s ineffectiveness this season. Let’s take a look at it.

It has (moderately) good mirroring, with his four-seamer, changeup, and curveball each being 15 minutes away from being perfect mirrors of each other. Even his slider is only a half hour away from being a perfect mirror.

That could be tightened up a bit but it’s not really a concern. His sinker also ends 1:15 away from his four-seamer which is a good sign. He also throws a slightly below average amount of sinker meatballs. Again, that’s a good sign.

So what’s the problem with his sinker? Again, there may not be a clear answer, but all of his pitches have basically the same movement profile. He does a good job of pitching in all regions of the zone but all of his pitches are focused on drop at the expense of run.

Literally the only pitch that runs an above average amount is his curveball and that’s by a whopping 0.4 inches. Every other pitch is at least 10% below average.

To be fair, none of his pitches really move much in either direction, but everything is focused on vertical movement. Even his four-seamer drops 50% more than average, which means the only thing separating it from his sinker is a 2 inches of drop and a bunch of run.

That’s not ideal. The two pitches have practically identical spin, but they would be better tunnels if his four-seamer stayed firm and his sinker dropped a bunch. He already has half of that, with his well above average sinker drop, but his four-seamer really just doesn’t help it all that much.

Even his slider, his go to breaking pitch, has literally no horizontal movement (0.5 inches of total run).

Again, every pitch in his arsenal is focused on vertical movement. Take a look at what I mean.

When Hudson throws a pitch, a hitter knows that it’s going to drop a lot and that he doesn’t really need to worry about a lot of horizontal break. This is clearly what Hudson is going for, though, since he actually added over two inches of drop since 2019. His 25.6 inches of drop is actually a career high.

Now, on the contrary, his horizontal movement has actually decreased since he debuted. This is why I wanted to talk about the importance of horizontal movement earlier. Hudson’s sinker should be moving in the other direction, literally.

Hudson’s Sinker Movement

Year Vertical Movement (in) % vs Average Horizontal Movement (in) % vs Average
Year Vertical Movement (in) % vs Average Horizontal Movement (in) % vs Average
2018 22.3 20 13.0 -6
2019 23.6 12 12.8 -11
2020 20.7 1 14.4 2
2021 23.5 11 12.2 -15
2022 25.6 19 12.7 -10

Adding run would help his sinker be more effective and it would give the hitter something else to worry about. Not only would it be able to cut off the barrel, it would also throw a different look at hitters, which would help it pair better with his other offerings.

Hudson has a bunch of other pitches that dive toward the ground, he doesn’t need to keep emphasizing that with his sinker. The point of sinker is to sink, obviously, and the pitch can still do that while running away from the barrel.

Interestingly, Hudson’s sinker has never had a positive run value in a full season. It did have a positive run value in both 2019 and 2020, but Hudson threw fewer than 50 innings combined in those two seasons. I’m more convinced by his full season results.

In fact, excluding his 2021 season, Hudson’s sinker has never had a wOBA below .346. It hasn’t exactly been a great pitch throughout his career. I think that adding run could change that. He’s been moving in the other direction, though, so I’m not too convinced that’s going to happen.


McFarland — Throws all his pitches in the same part of the zone. Not ideal and definitely doesn’t help his sinker.

Brooks — Just bad. Horizontal movement is important on sinkers but not the end-all-be-all.

Hudson — Everything drops, nothing really runs. Has actually added drop to his sinker but I would love to see him add run instead.

Two of the names on this list aren’t surprising but Hudson’s lack of success with his bread-and-butter pitch is concerning.

Thanks for reading! This is the last part of the sinker series so I’ll bring you guys something new on Tuesday. I had a ton of fun looking into sinkers, especially since they are so important to the St. Louis Cardinals and I hope you all enjoyed this series as well.