How sinker could make Ryan's repertoire even better

March 6th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When burst onto the scene as a rookie down the stretch in 2021, he was basically a one-pitch pitcher.

Ryan’s four-seam fastball is a good one, and he found success with it then and still does. But he threw it a lot -- 65 percent of the time in a small sample in ‘21, more than any starting pitcher in baseball. He then threw it 60 percent of the time in his first full season in 2022, and with good reason -- the fastball always performed well. But there was still a sense his pitch mix would need to evolve in order to set up him best for long-term success.

Two-and-a-half years later, Ryan still throws a lot of fastballs. But his pitch mix is otherwise transformed. Last season, he ditched his changeup and curveball while implementing a splitter that became his No. 2 pitch. He also upped his sweeper usage. And this spring, he’s tinkering with another new pitch -- a sinker, the goal being to provide the 27-year-old righty with as many weapons as possible

“It’s a blast,” Ryan said after logging three innings of one-run ball in Wednesday's 7-1 win over the Red Sox at Hammond Stadium. “It’s fun to just see how different guys around the league use different pitches and it’s always fun to keep working on stuff.”

Ryan clarified the sinker isn’t technically an entirely new pitch -- he threw a two-seamer growing up, and the sinker grip is only a slight variation on that pitch. But that was a long time ago. These days, Ryan is far from the only pitcher jumping on the sinker train, an emerging trend that’s Mike Petriello recently explored.

“High school and elementary school are a little bit different than the big leagues,” Ryan said. “But at the same time, it's still baseball and it’s still pitching.”

Even without macro trends pushing pitchers toward throwing more sinkers, for a pitcher like Ryan who relies so much on his fastball, the exploration makes sense. Last season, Ryan still threw 57 percent four-seamers, and the splitter is effectively a fastball redesigned as a swing-and-miss pitch. A sinker just gives him another offering with slightly different movement coming out of the same slot, engineered to generate weak contact early in the count.

It’s the kind of pitch that can keep Ryan’s pitch count down, help him pitch deeper into games and withstand the demands of a long season.

“I think it's a great pitch to add to the arsenal,” said Ryan. “I don't know how much we're going to use it. I don't know what that usage looks like throughout the course of the season, but it's a fun pitch to have in my back pocket to keep hitters off balance and it feels really good to throw.”

Ryan said the idea came out of “just joking around” with grips and ideas in a casual way. Soon he was experimenting with it at Driveline this winter, and in Twins camp this spring, it’s no longer a joke. For Ryan and Minnesota, the benefits could be very real.

“Joe has really defined strengths that he's relied on for his entire career, and there's still going to be a strengths,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But you definitely need to keep developing those other pitches and pay a lot of attention to them.

"To be kind of blunt about it, hitters need more than one type of swing to hit in today's game. You can't just go out there and attack all of these fastballs in the same manner.”