He grips the
baseball with his forefinger and middle finger on the seams at the point where
the seams are closest together, with his thumb on the underside of the ball. He
applies pressure with the two top fingers as the ball spins off them, imparting
its sinking action. Why the ball sinks more dramatically when Webb throws it
than it does when most other pitchers do exactly the same thing is one of the
mysteries of baseball, but Webb has his theories. "I think it has to do
with your arm action and release point more than anything else," he says.
"I come over the top with my delivery a little more than most guys, and
that might account for the sink."
rely on an effective sinker, such as Atlanta's Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay of the
Toronto Blue Jays, Derek Lowe of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Carlos Silva of
the Minnesota Twins but Webb still throws a "heavier" ball than most.
"It's like a bowling ball that rolled off a table," says Estrada, who
has caught Hudson as well. "It lands in my glove, and it feels like it
weighs about 10 pounds. Imagine what it feels like to hit something like
When he first
began developing the pitch in 2000, Webb changed his motion a bit so that he
could throw the sinker to either side of the plate, but it took him most of the
following season to learn how to control the pitch. The 27 batters he hit in
'01 paid the painful price for his education. By the next season he had
harnessed the pitch well enough to become one of the Diamondbacks' top
prospects, and he made it to the majors in '03. After an encouraging rookie
season in which he finished 10-9 with a 2.84 ERA, Webb slipped to 7-16 in '04
when he lived a sinkerballer's worst nightmare--pitching in front of a shaky
infield. The Diamondbacks committed 139 errors that year, 36 in Webb's
The lack of trust
in his infield caused Webb to change his pitching style. Instead of trying to
induce ground balls, he started nibbling on the corners and trying to strike
out hitters. His walks skyrocketed as a result, from 3.39 per nine innings in
'03 to 5.15. Last year the infield improved, and so did Webb's control. He
slashed his walks in half and finished 14-12 with a 3.54 ERA. This season, with
an even better middle infield--Counsell moved from second base to short to make
way for the Gold Glove--winning Hudson-- Webb is again unafraid of allowing
hitters to make contact and is averaging fewer than one walk per nine
After his 6-0
start last year he went only 8-12 the rest of the season, a slide that Webb is
determined not to repeat. "A pitcher of Webby's caliber ought to be in the
All-Star Game and in the hunt to win 20 games every year," says Estrada.
"My goal is to help him get there."
Webb makes no
secret of the fact that he has similar hopes. "Team goals come first,"
he says, "but I don't think there's any harm in saying that there are some
things I'd like to achieve as a pitcher."
After all, Webb
didn't get this far by trying to fool anyone.