Yankees’ emerging starter displayed encouraging changes in Spring Training start

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke Schmidt entered camp last season battling for the fifth spot in the New York Yankees’ rotation, but this year, he’s just building himself up with the knowledge that he’s one of the five starters in their rotation. This could be a big year for the Yankees’ former first-round pick, and there’s a decent amount of pressure riding on Schmidt to take a step forward. 2023 wasn’t everything that the Yankees hoped for with Schmidt, as he struggled to open the season, and as he finally got his sequencing down, the movement and velocity of his pitches regressed down the stretch.

The winter has been busy for Clarke Schmidt, as refining his pitch mix and improving his velocity have been huge goals for him, and his start against the Miami Marlins flashed some of those tweaks. With firmer velocity, better shapes, and a refined changeup, this start showed a glimpse into the heights he could reach in 2024.

Clarke Schmidt Is Flashing a New Changeup

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Miami Marlins
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hardest pitches to learn is a changeup, as it’s a feel pitch that requires lots of repetition and refinement to get it down pact. Clarke Schmidt has been trying to learn a strong changeup all winter, and he showed off a split change that he had been working on all winter. It’s not going to be a pitch he uses the way he relies on his sinker-cutter-slider, but this could be another weapon he can use to keep left-handed hitters honest. Left-handed hitters were even better against Schmidt last season, posting a .376 wOBA versus a .338 wOBA in 2022.

The addition of a cutter was supposed to keep lefties honest, but it ended up resulting in more damage contact allowed and even more struggles during the season. In an excellent article done by Greg Joyce of the New York Post, it was revealed that Clarke Schmidt had started playing around with Kevin Gausman’s splitter grip as he threw one of the best-offspeed pitches in all of baseball. Schmidt’s changeup doesn’t resemble the splitter that the Blue Jays’ ace throws, it does closely resemble another elite offspeed pitch.

For context, the changeup sample size for Carlos Carrasco is from 2019-2023, and while he hasn’t been a very effective pitcher across those five seasons, his changeup has remained excellent. It’s got a 32.8% Whiff Rate and .297 wOBA allowed over that timespan, and if Clarke Schmidt is getting similar results with his offspeed pitch, then the entirety of his arsenal gets that much better. It’s a huge development for him entering his age-28 season, and this could be the fix for his woes against left-handed batters.

While the development of the changeup is a huge step forward for Clarke Schmidt, he’s also made subtle tweaks to other pitches in his repertoire that can make him much better in 2024.

Yankees Could Get a Huge Season From Clarke Schmidt

mlb: new york yankees at kansas city royals, clarke schmidt

Refining movement is something that Clarke Schmidt desperately needed, as his sinker got hurt by the addition of his cutter when he started supinating his wrist more. He’d have to figure out how to pronate the ball better while also supinating well enough to throw a quality cutter and sweeper. The balance between the sinker and cutter is important for 2024, and he’s added some more run on the sinker while getting more vertical ride on his cutter, which could allow those pitches to miss more barrels.

Focusing on the cutter, last season showed that when he can get more vertical ride on the pitch, he can miss more bats and barrels, resulting in more success and more confidence in the pitch. When looking at how his cutter performs at different vertical break profiles, there’s a massive discrepancy in success.

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When his cutter gets more ride, it’s a lot better, and in his Spring Training outing, it averaged over 10 inches of Induced Vertical Break, a sign that he could be getting behind the ball a little more. His sinker was also generating more arm side run, and that could result in weak contact and more groundballs, and that’s an encouraging sign given how much of a dropoff his sinker had in Stuff+ from 2022 to 2023. Fastballs are the foundation of your arsenal, and seeing Schmidt throw better versions of his fastballs should elevate the rest of his mix.

His sweeper has traded off velocity for sweep, a tweak that I think could result in more swings and misses as it leans more into the “sweeper” name with a larger movement profile. The curveball has made a similar change, and the work he put in over the winter seems to be translating into a much better pitch mix. I’m not going to tell you he’s a Cy Young candidate, but if these changes translate on-field the way they should, then we could see a version of Clarke Schmidt that slots into the middle of the Yankees’ rotation instead of the fifth spot.

This upcoming season is a huge one for Clarke Schmidt, who is in a make-it-or-break-it situation with his future as a starting pitcher. If it doesn’t click this year, the Yankees have arms like Will Warren and Chase Hampton waiting in the wings, desperate to grab a job in the rotation. Nestor Cortes and Marcus Stroman both have two years of control remaining, and Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon are in the middle of big-money contracts with the Yankees.

It’s unclear what the future holds for Clarke Schmidt, but if he can stay healthy and maintain his refinements during the season, he’ll live up to the expectations he had as the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2017.

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