Ryan Harbin: Sinker/Slider Mix Dominating Single-A Hitters

Sometimes it isn’t easy to get noticed when pitching out of the bullpen in Single-A. With the way he has started the season, it has been hard to not notice Ryan Harbin, the former 17th round pick by the Pirates back in 2019.

After spending a few years in the Complex League, Harbin got a brief taste of Single-A last season before starting 2023 with the Bradenton Marauders.

Coming out of the bullpen, Harbin has been fantastic, and is doing something that few in all of the minors is doing.

Two of the biggest keys to success when pitching is keeping the ball on the ground, and generating swings and misses. When looking at pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched this year in the minors (as of June 5), there are only 15 pitchers to have a ground ball of at least 60%, as well as a Swinging Strike rate (SwStr%) of at least 16%.

Harbin is one of them (as well as Noe Toribio). That’s across all levels, and systems. When you bump that number up to pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Harbin is just one of three, and the only among either sample size to have a 70% ground ball rate or higher.

Harbin has been fantastic this season, posting a 1.23 ERA with a 31 K% and 6.9 BB% while holding opponents to a .190 average across 22 innings pitched. The strong is backed by a 2.83 xFIP, which is the best mark in the system as of June 5.

Originally brought in as a projectable high school pitcher that was pitching in the high 80s (topping 94) when he made his professional debut, he’s now averaging 95 with his sinker – topping out at 98.6 mph.

Sinker Velocity 95.79 mph
Spin Rate  2075 rpm
Vertical Break  19.4 in
Horizontal Break  14.87 in

While it’s not a high spin rate sinker, the movement on the pitch is fantastic. For reference, the tail side horizontal break of 14.87 inches is a tad less than what the movement is on Thomas Harrington’s slider, and we’ve seen how effective that pitch is.

There’s a lot of movement on it, and while he doesn’t get a lot of swing and miss with it, the sinker plays a huge factor in his 70+% ground ball rate.

Breaking Pitches

According to Baseball Savant’s pitch tracking, Harbin pairs the fastball/sinker with a slider and cutter, both of which have very similar movement, so in the video I lumped them together.

  Slider Cutter Combined
Velocity 84.9 mph 86.8 mph 85.8 mph
Spin Rate 2799 rpm 2778 rpm 2790 rpm
Vertical Break 39.65 inches 34.5 inches 37.36 inches
Horizontal Break 14.48 inches 12.06 inches 13.4 inches
Whiff% 57.57% 50% 54.2%
CSW% 45.3% 40.3% 43.1%

We can see the slider has a tad more movement overall, and has been able to create far more swing and miss, but they still are more or less the same pitch at the moment.

He could look to create more separation between the two if he wants two truly different pitches, if not, as a reliever a sinker/slider combination works perfectly.

Tunneling Pitches

In the final video, we see how well Harbin pairs the two pitches at times. In the first clip, it’s just a two pitch combination of the sinker/slider. He throws the sinker low and away for a ball, but then came back with the slider in the same spot that breaks and hits the corner.

In the next video, Harbin starts away, again going fastball/slider, one fouled the other a ball. He then works inside, throwing the pitches in the same order, with the fastball fouled off before starting the slider in the same spot before breaking in towards the back foot for a swing and miss strike three.

The third clip he throws a sinker away, before throwing a pair of sliders that start at the same point, before breaking in – with the first fouled and then followed up with a swing and miss.

Finally, a three pitch sequence worked to perfection that has the hit way out in front and finish on one knee for the strikeout.

Harbin may not be a name that is immediately talked about when it comes to Bradenton pitchers, but few are having the success he is having. Working in the bullpen, should the Pirates feel like he is ready, he could move fast with his combination of sinker/slider. That’s especially the case if the velocity keeps playing up on the latter.

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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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I never heard of him, but .I am all for any pitcher that looks promising in our system.


Great article!!

I don’t think just a “17th round pick” does it justice though.

He was obviously an over-slot Prep signing(like you and mentioned). You can tell from his age(21) and level too(Low A).

But he signed for just below 400K; 275K over slot and 5th round money. Like I said, more than just your average 17th round pick.

Last edited 3 months ago by pittsburghbob69

They should be moving him up, he’s a potential rule 5 guy after this year. If he can continue to dominant at high A, maybe he can make it to Altoona.


and onto the 40-man


Awesome! Another good name to add to my daily boxscore surfing


Wondering how he compares to Ramirez sinker.


Sweet Jesus !

Now move along


He looks far too good for low A. The slider looks ready to get big leaguers out.


Its hard to judge pitchers that are getting batters out in low A with superior breaking stuff. See Florez, Santiago.

Move him up to high A and then lets see how he does.


I may say stupid things, but I would never suggest skipping a player up 4 levels.


Is there any chance at his still young age they would start trying to stretch him out and see if there is still a chance he could make it as a starter? I know that is rare, but everybody peaks at different ages.

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