Yankees face brutal starting pitching concerns

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May 14, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt (36) delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees brought plenty of offensive firepower to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon. Nonetheless, the Bombers needed to secure a series win over Tampa to further shrink their deficit in the AL East. As it stands, the Yankees linger eight games behind, a mere half game away from the division’s last place, currently occupied by the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees have achieved victories in six of their previous ten games, albeit they’ve had significant struggles on the road, recording a 7–9 record. While their pitching has been a notable asset in recent weeks, it’s their offense that has truly shone.

Indeed, they’ve amassed 22 runs in their last three games, while surrendering 21 runs in the process. Clarke Schmidt, the starting pitcher for Sunday’s game, took the mound with hopes of clinching a Mother’s Day victory.

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The Yankees can’t rely on Clarke Schmidt as a starter moving forward:

Regrettably, Schmidt delivered another disappointing performance, conceding seven earned runs from six hits with three walks over a span of 4.2 innings. Schmidt was taken out in the 5th inning, leaving the bases loaded for bullpen pitcher Albert Abreu.

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Apr 23, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt (36) reacts during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Abreu’s repertoire consisted of four consecutive change-ups, the last of which was a poorly executed pitch that ended up over the right-field wall for a grand slam. This development placed the game beyond the Yankees’ grasp, despite several late-game revival attempts.

Regrettably, Schmidt’s tenure as a starting pitcher seems to be drawing to a close. It remains to be seen whether Jhony Brito or Schmidt will be reassigned to different roles, but the 27-year-old has undeniably had a challenging start to the 2023 season. Despite an impressive pitch composition, Schmidt records just a 61.6% left-on-base rate, a 45.1% ground-ball rate, and a 17.4% HR/FB ratio.

On paper, Schmidt possesses promising skills, employing a sweeper, sinker, cutter, curveball, and occasionally experimenting with a change-up. However, his sinker, which he uses 26% of the time, yields a .382 batting average against, and his cutter a .433 batting average. His sinker simply isn’t causing any swings and misses, boasting an 8.2% whiff rate, one of the lowest of any pitcher on the Yankee roster.

Interestingly, Schmidt tends to perform better early in games, suggesting that he might serve effectively as a bullpen pitcher once the rotation recovers its health and his services are no longer needed in that capacity.

However, Schmidt isn’t the sole struggling pitcher in the rotation. Brito, a 25-year-old prospect promoted to assist with injury coverage, carries a 5.81 ERA with 6.39 strikeouts per nine and a 70.7% left-on-base rate. He has a 14% HR/FB ratio and walks 4.06 batters per nine, a high number that necessitates improvement.

While Brito has had a few decent starts initially, his confidence seems to have waned, and his precision has declined. In reality, Brito likely needs a few more months at the AAA level to continue honing his pitch sequence and enhancing his consistency. He commands decent velocity at 96 mph on his fastball, but he frequently leaves pitches hanging over the middle of the strike zone, resulting in hard-hit balls.

The team’s primary relief pitcher, Domingo German, has recently exhibited solid performances, maintaining a 4.00 ERA. In his last three appearances, German has conceded only four earned runs, demonstrating impressive efficiency. There’s no doubt he’s earned the final spot in the rotation when Luis Severino and Carlos Rodon return, despite having had his share of inconsistencies previously.

Regrettably, one of the Yankees’ poorest starters early this season is Nestor Cortés, who was projected to act as a secondary ace within the rotation.

Cortes, aged 28, currently carries a 5.53 ERA and 8.93 strikeouts per nine. He’s walking 2.76 batters per nine innings, the highest since the 2020 season, and is surrendering 1.49 home runs per game, also a record high. Across his last three appearances, Cortes has allowed 15 runs, walked eight batters, and yielded four home runs.

There should come a time when Nestor’s performance improves, but currently, he is regressing toward his career averages, and the Yankees urgently need him to accelerate his pace. The return of Severino might alleviate some of the pressure on him to act as the team’s No. 2, potentially boosting his confidence.

At this juncture, the Yankees are in dire need of additional support within the rotation. It wouldn’t be surprising if general manager Brian Cashman turns to the trade market to scout for more talent. Hopefully, the left field issue will resolve itself, and the Yankees won’t be forced to deplete their farm system at this summer’s deadline.