Giants’ Lee relying on ‘stifling’ sinker

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Giants’ Lee relying on ‘stifling’ sinker

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Lee Jae-gon

Lotte Giants pitcher Lee Jae-gon is baffling batters with his unusual sinker, helping the rookie make a name for himself in his first season as a pro.

“We knew he was going to be throwing sinkers and our players still couldn’t make solid contact,” a Doosan Bears official who analyzes game statistics said after his team faced Lee in a match on Tuesday night. “It’s stifling.”

The rookie sidearm pitcher nearly blanked the Bears, which rank second in the Korea Baseball Organization in all major offensive categories. Lee pitched a complete game, throwing just 93 pitches in nine innings of work and holding the Bears to four hits and one run.

Lee’s strategy was simple: throw the sinker.

According to the Bears, 82 of his pitches in the game were sinkers, while 11 were curveballs.

But the Giants said he threw 71 sinkers, 11 fastballs and 11 curveballs.

And therein lies one of the reasons why the pitch is so effective.

Lee’s sinkers typically range in the 128 to 136 kilometers per hour (80 to 85 miles per hour) range, which is similar to the speed of his fastball.

Lee’s fastball also breaks a little as it crosses home plate, making it extremely difficult for opposing batters to tell the two pitches apart.

“Fastballs are supposed to clock in faster than sinkers, but I can’t really tell you why that’s not the case for me,” Lee said.

In many games, Lee’s fastest pitch is indeed a sinker. Such was the case on Tuesday night against the Bears, where Lee’s top pitch was a sinker that clocked in at 136 kilometers an hour.

It’s also difficult to predict the direction of Lee’s sinker pitches.

Like most sidearm pitchers, a majority of Lee’s sinkers break to the side. But his can also break downwards from time to time, further confusing batters. Even he isn’t quite sure what’s going to happen.

“I toss my sinker pitches using the same two-seam grip, but they end up breaking differently,” Lee said. “I don’t even know for sure where my sinkers will end up.”

One of the reasons for the unpredictable nature of Lee’s pitches is due to his physique, observers say. Lee stands 191 centimeters (6 feet 3 inches) tall, and his release point is lower than most sidearm pitchers.

“The angle is comparable to one in a submarine delivery [a pitch thrown with an underhand motion],” said Giants coach Yang Sang-moon. “Due to his height, batters experience an unusual situation in which they get the type of breaking balls they might usually see from a pitcher with a submarine delivery, but coming from a sidearm release.”

Lee spent the past two years serving his mandatory military service before officially joining the Giants this year.

As the first sidearm pitcher Giants fans have seen in a decade, Lee has posted a record of four wins and three losses in his rookie season with a 4.26 ERA.

With a string of starting pitchers out with injuries, Lee’s presence in the starting rotation has the coaching staff eager to see what he can do going forward. “Lee will not only start games the remainder of the season, but he will maintain his place next season and beyond,” Yang said.


By Kim Dong-hwan [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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