Yankees’ 2nd year starter is making key adjustments

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees, clarke schmidt
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Clarke Schmidt is coming off his best start at the Major League level, firing eight shutout innings as the Yankees have seen him evolve into a completely different pitcher this season. Last year, he had a 6.00 ERA while averaging less than five innings per start at this point in the season, with questions about whether the Yankees should continue starting him or not beginning to get louder. One of the top starters in the American League in 2024, Schmidt has made a massive change in recent starts, and opposing hitters are struggling mightily to adjust.

Getting away from his sinker, the usage rates are trending in the right direction for Clarke Schmidt, who has gone from a backend starter to an indispensable part of the Yankees’ rotation.

Clarke Schmidt Has Transformed With the Yankees

MLB: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Something I noticed about Clarke Schmidt early was that he became far too reliant on his sinker to put hitters away in two-strike counts, a trend that would take potentially dominant starts and cut them short. Let’s rewind to April 24th against the Oakland Athletics, where Schmidt was cruising through five innings before the sixth inning would come around and present the then-usual problems that he always had.

After carving up batters with his excellent secondaries, Schmidt decided that six of the 13 pitches he would throw in that inning would be sinkers; and the Oakland absolutely torched him. He quickly got Tyler Nevin to an 0-2 count after hitting Ryan Noda to open the frame, and right to the sinker, he went to try and record his first out of the inning. It ended in a 97.6 MPH double to the right-field corner, and after getting JJ Bleday to strikeout, he would fire another sinker to Brent Rooker, who hit it 111.2 MPH to left field for a three-run blast.

Ouch.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees
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After going 5.2 innings against the Baltimore Orioles with just one run allowed, Clarke Schmidt would return home to face the Detroit Tigers, another offense that you’d hope he could breeze through. Up 5-1 and in an 0-2 count against Matt Vierling, Clarke Schmidt could have doubled up with a sweeper for a chase and potential strikeout, but he instead went to the sinker; a pitch that Vrieling smacked to the right field corner for an RBI triple, and with a sacrifice fly right after, he’d have to settle for a mediocre outing in a start he should have cruised in.

Chris Kirschner of The Athletic (who some would also say I look like) would write a detailed piece about Clarke Schmidt’s early-season success, and in the middle of his excellent article came a line about something the Yankees wanted him to work on:

“One of the areas where the Yankees have identified a problem for Schmidt is his reliance on his sinker in two-strike counts against right-handed hitters.”

Since this piece? Clarke Schmidt has thrown his sinker just 12.7% of the time, making it his fourth-most used pitch in his last two starts. Not only has he not allowed a run in either of those two starts, but he also pitched 6.2 and 8.0 innings in those outings, marking the first time in his career that he’s pitched over six innings in consecutive starts, an eye-opening development for a pitcher who has often struggled with the sixth, and the reliance on his cutter-slider-curveball are signs of serious maturity for Schmidt.

While sequencing and matchups should be taken into account when it comes to pitch usage, usually you’re better off throwing your best pitches more often. Clarke Schmidt’s sinker plays an important role in his arsenal, especially when it comes to setting up his cutter and establishing both sides of the plate, but it’s not a primary-level offering. By utilizing it more as a show pitch, Schmidt has a better arsenal for late-game situations, and instead of increasing its usage, he’s sticking to what makes his first few innings successful.

Progress isn’t always linear, and as the league starts picking up on these trends, Clarke Schmidt will have to find ways to adjust right back, but he’s part of a Yankees’ pitching staff that has impressed mightily. No team in baseball has a better ERA (2.81) or Stuff+ (108) right now than the New York Yankees, who currently do not have Gerrit Cole. They’ll be getting some key bullpen reinforcements soon as well.

Now the question becomes; can the pitching staff keep things together for just a bit longer as the Yankees start to get Gerrit Cole onto the later stages of his rehab?

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