Yankees’ second-year starter could see a huge developmental leap in 2024

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke Schmidt is one of the most interesting pitchers on the New York Yankees, and there are reports of some tweaks he’s made to improve his mechanics. People look at his age and assume that he’s at the end of his development, but when looking at his experience on the mound, he’s still in the learning stages of his career. The right-hander was averaging 96.4 MPH on his sinker in a recent bullpen, according to Greg Joyce of the New York Post, who wrote an excellent piece detailing the changes that Schmidt has made this winter.

I won’t be going over what those changes are, Greg already wrote them perfectly, rather we’ll be going through how those changes could translate to more on-field success. 2024 is a huge season for Clarke Schmidt, and we’re taking a look at how his improvements could lead to a huge season as a sophomore in the Yankees’ rotation.

A New Sinker Could Take Clarke Schmidt to the Next Level

mlb: new york yankees at chicago white sox, clarke schmidt
Aug 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt (36) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest adjustments that Clarke Schmidt had to make this winter was getting his sinker shape back to where it should be as the pitch regressed heavily from its 2022 form. The loss in velocity isn’t shocking; he was pushed past his previous career high in innings pitched and started to get fatigued down the stretch, but the sinker also lost about five inches of run, which made the pitch a lot less effective against right-handed batters. He’s mentioned getting more run on it over the winter and in Spring Training, and the difference between Schmidt’s 2022 and 2023 sinkers is dramatic.

Given the fact that Clarke Schmidt has a much deeper repertoire than just a sinker-sweeper now, the effectiveness of his sinker in these matchups would be even greater than it was in 2022, as batters can’t just sit on one of two pitches. If the pitch starts outside you know it’s a sweeper, if it’s inside you know it’s a sinker, there’s a reason why batters only chased at 27.6% of pitches against Schmidt in 2022. That number improved in 2023, and I think the cutter played a huge role in that development.

A big thing that Schmidt was able to work on last year was his pitchability and sequencing, which came through getting crushed early in the season. He couldn’t just overpower hitters with his pitches, leaving them over the heart of the plate and hoping that he could generate soft contact and get outs so he’d learn how to mix in all four of his pitches. When looking at Eno Sarris’ new Pitching+ model, Schmidt has three different pitches graded out as above-average or elite in both Pitching+ and Stuff+

If his sinker ends up being as good as it was in 2022, he could have four different pitches with a Pitching+ above 100, and that’s a pretty big deal. Not many pitchers can say they sport three above-average pitches, much less four, and it could be what makes Clarke Schmidt a breakout pick this upcoming season. Specifically related to the sinker, we could see an improved version of the pitch aid his contact management, as he posted a 1.36 HR/9 and .373 xwOBACON (Expected Weighted On-Base Average on Contact), a huge regression from 2022.

An improvement to one pitch can also make your other pitches better, and Stuff+ actually factors in your fastball when computing a grade for your secondary pitches. When reading a piece from Eno Sarris back in 2021 explaining his metric, this line stands out a lot:

“The most important aspects of a pitcher’s arsenal are the range on velocities and movements off of their fastballs.”

Eno Sarris

Clarke Schmidt’s cutter is a good pitch that he had to learn to sequence with his other pitches, but his sinker was the primary fastball he threw for years. His fastballs have always been so-so at best, but a sinker-cutter combination can gel extremely well and finally give Schmidt a solution to his fastball woes. Marcus Stroman has woven his sinker-cutter-slider beautifully into a successful MLB career, and he could serve as an excellent mentor this season.

READ MORE: Yankees’ star outfield prospect showcasing elite potential

Yankees’ New Addition Could Have Huge Off-Field Impact

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 19, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) participates in spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Stroman is known in a lot of ways and has faced criticism regarding both his on-field and off-field performance, even clashing with Brian Cashman and the Yankees in years past. The 32-year-old has been called a lot of things in his time as a Major Leaguer and has certainly spent time in the limelight of the media and fans, but one thing has remained true. Never has anybody come out and called Stroman a bad teammate, and his relationship with Clarke Schmidt early on has been something to follow.

“I truly think Clarke Schmidt is going to be a guy for many, many years in this league once he fine-tunes some little things…He’s got some big, big, big-time stuff. I think Clarke Schmidt is going to end up being a guy for us or a guy in this league for many, many years.”

Marcus Stroman

Their arsenals are very similar, and Gerrit Cole even remarked that Schmidt could learn a lot about his sinker from someone like Stroman, who has one of the best in baseball. Both of these pitchers have arsenals that include high-spin fastballs that don’t generate movement the way they should because of their wrist orientation. When the Yankees signed Corey Kluber, he ended up having a huge impact on Michael King’s development when he helped him learn a sweeping slider, and there could be a pitch Stroman aids Schmidt with.

Splitters are one of the most unique pitches in all of baseball, and Clarke Schmidt mentioned making some tweaks to his changeup this offseason. Now, those changes were made during the offseason, and Marcus Stroman wasn’t signed until January, so I’m not insinuating that Stroman has overseen the development of Schmidt’s offspeed pitch, but that he could provide some tips on how to manipulate movement consistently on it.

Considering how similarly these two right-handers spin the baseball, anything that Stroman can identify regarding how Schmidt orients the ball or generates movement would be helpful. Whether it’s on his sinker, cutter, slider, or changeup, the meticulous nature of Marcus Stroman could prove to be extremely helpful for Clarke Schmidt. Gerrit Cole took him under his wing last season, and he’s another detail-oriented veteran who heaped a lot of praise for the right-hander.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 15, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) talks with media during spring training practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

This season is a huge one for Clarke Schmidt, who will take on the mantle of being the Yankees’ fifth starter and hopefully evolve into even more. He’s got multiple years of control and could be a mainstay in the Yankees’ rotation, but only time will tell if he lives up to the first-round expectations set on him back in 2017. This is a former top-100 prospect who is finally healthy enough to make an impact, and this could be his shot to emerge as a quality starter at the Major League level.

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