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Chris Bassitt and the AL’s Best Sinker

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Milwaukee Brewers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With a hat-tip to Alex Fast of the indispensable site Pitcherlist.com, I realized that the Oakland A’s have a pitcher who does something better than any of his American League counterparts. Chris Bassitt throws the AL’s best sinker.

That tweet was among a series of tweets about the best pitches in baseball for the month of July. Bassitt pitched fine in that game against Houston and the A’s still lost. But for at least one pitch Bassitt was king. My knee feels sore just watching that clip.

Zooming out on Chris Bassitt’s 2019 season and there’s little of note. A 3.80 ERA is perfectly acceptable, especially for a back-end starter. He’s an average starting pitcher in just about every way. That’s not a criticism, mind you, it’s just a realistic summation of Bassitt’s abilities.

Diving back into Bassitt’s individual parts and his pitch mix stands out. In his first two MLB stints (between Chicago and Oakland) Bassitt’s arsenal was more slider/curve heavy. Then for a brief moment in 2016, before he succumbed to Tommy John Surgery Bassitt resembled the pitcher he is now: 38% sinkers.

Chris Bassitt’s Pitch Usage

Season Team FA% SI% CH% SL% CU%
Season Team FA% SI% CH% SL% CU%
2014 White Sox 16.7 % 31.5 % 7.3 % 26.3 % 18.2 %
2015 Athletics 25.9 % 30.4 % 7.3 % 21.9 % 14.5 %
2016 Athletics 20.5 % 38.8 % 7.8 % 13.9 % 19.1 %
2018 Athletics 13.3 % 44.1 % 4.3 % 25.0 % 13.3 %
2019 Athletics 25.0 % 38.4 % 7.8 % 13.3 % 12.9 %
Fangraphs.com

That pitch, which Bassitt throws nearly 40% of the time, is the best sinker in the American league per Pitch Info pitch values.

AL Pitch Values Leaders: Sinker

# Name Team IP wSI
# Name Team IP wSI
1 Chris Bassitt Athletics 106.2 13
2 Jose Berrios Twins 141.2 6.5
3 Danny Duffy Royals 100.1 5.7
4 Kyle Gibson Twins 123 5.7
5 Eduardo Rodriguez Red Sox 135.1 5.3
6 J.A. Happ Yankees 115 5.1
7 Yonny Chirinos Rays 126.2 4.3
8 Rick Porcello Red Sox 128.1 3.8
9 Mike Fiers Athletics 140.1 2.9
10 Jake Odorizzi Twins 114.2 2.7
Fangraphs.com

As seen in the video above, Bassitt’s “sinker” doesn’t really seem to sink as much as it moves horizontally. Not surprisingly Bassitt’ also has top-15 horizontal movement on his sinker according to statcast.

Batters are slashing just .236/.275/.371 against Bassitt sinkers this year. And while it isn’t a strikeout pitch, it has been highly effective at creating outs.

Last week, following Bassitt’s taming of the Milwaukee Brewers, Eno Sarris of The Athletic pointed out something else Bassitt does that’s extremely effective: inducing popups.

Sarris notes that popups are outs nearly 99% of the time. Bassitt’s sinker leads to infield flyballs more than 27% of the time which isn’t as often as his curveball, but still a high number. Couple that with his sinker’s 50% groundball rate and the elite Oakland infield defense and it’s easy to see why Bassitt is finding success despite a middling strikeout-minus-walk rate. It’s also cause to believe his .254 BABIP is somewhat sustainable.

Bassitt pitched nearly all of 2018 between the minor leagues and the major leagues, but now that he’s more than a year removed from surgery he’s regained the form that caught our attention way back 2015 and with each passing start Bassitt provides evidence that he’s a perfectly capable major league starting pitcher.