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  • Josh Winder Throws a Sinker Now

    Matt Braun

    The former top prospect’s four-seamer wasn’t cutting it; how much can the new offering help?

    Image courtesy of Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

    Twins Video

    About a month ago, the Twins were losing handily to the Tigers when Josh Winder took the mound. Minnesota wasn’t expecting greatness; they just needed someone to eat outs in order for the game to continue to its dreadful conclusion. Sitting 2-0 against Matt Vierling, Winder uncorked his offering:

    Vierling looks perplexed. He is perplexed. He got the 2-0 heater he was expecting, but the pitch ran way more than he predicted, causing a foul off his foot, and an extended stare into space as he thinks “huh.” There’s a reason he acted that way; Winder is a four-seam guy, with movement dead and true. Yet, his offering here bored like it was looking for diamonds. What’s going on here?

    It’s a sinker; he threw a sinker. 

    Winder has been underwhelming since joining the Twins, perhaps making it easy for some to write off his entire profile. You shouldn’t! Winder is a master spinner, firing junk that flummoxes hitters. His slider? Batters slugged .320 off it in 2022 and are slugging .256 this year; the change is similarly effective. The problem has been the four-seam fastball: hitters transform into prime Barry Bonds against it. That’s actually incorrect—they’ve been better than Bonds, slugging .713 against it last season and .905 in 2023. .905! That would be an incredible OPS.

    Why was his fastball so tasty? I don’t know the exact reason—I watch from behind a screen, not in the batter’s box—but we do have some other numbers that can explain his problems. You’ve probably heard a little about vertical approach angle. It was a big deal when Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober first came up, as their strange, oddly effective heaters blew hitters away despite unimpressive velocity. The gist is this: throwing from a lower slot makes high fastballs look extra-jumpy. They get that bonus ride that tricks hitters and hitters’ bats, and it’s usually whiff-city when a batter attempts to hit it when it's up in the zone. 

    Winder… doesn’t enjoy this advantage. His angle is much higher than those two, keeping those high fastballs “on plane” before inevitably getting smacked into Wisconsin. A high approach angle by itself isn’t a death sentence—Félix Bautista basically drops pitches from the clouds, and he’s pretty good—but an average one, when combined with average fastball movement—which Winder has—turns his ERA sour and musty. 

    I wish I could tell you that the sinker has magically turned Winder into a great pitcher, but that isn’t true; he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out since debuting the pitch on August 16th. His ERA sparkles at 1.69. His peripherals belch. The sinker alone has done well, though, in a miniscule sample. It's been especially helpful against righties, which is good; Winder has demonstrated reversed splits in his MLB career, with righties slugging .495 against him while lefties have only been good for a .367 mark. 

    Frankly, it’s incredible that Winder introduced a foreign pitch on the fly. The offseason is usually when hurlers head to the drawing board and design a fresh offering; just ask Pablo López. But, when batters are slugging, *cough,* .905 against a pitch, that does tend to expedite change, especially for a player still battling for a secure role. I don’t know if the pitch will lead to the success that was promised for Winder, but it is encouraging that he’s proactively looking for solutions. Sometimes, quality performance is just one pitch away.

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    Been hearing for a while that he had a really good slider, but despite high velocity, his fastball just didn't play. Obviously, lack of movement means very little even with high mph. Major leaguers can hit hard stuff that comes in straight/flat.

    No way of knowing I'd this new sinker will get his career on an upward trajectory of not...sure hope so...but making the move to something different, even on the fly, is smart. Now he gets extra time this season to work on it. 

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