Yankees rookie pitcher could knock Clarke Schmidt into the bullpen

jhony brito, yankees
Apr 8, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Jhony Brito (76) throws a first inning pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have been desperately trying to get Clarke Schmidt starting rotation opportunities in hopes of him developing into a reliable starter. However, his first two starts of the 2023 season have been challenging, giving up three earned runs in his first game and four runs in his second. He pitched 3.1 innings in both games respectively, with similar stat lines against the Giants and Orioles.

In both games, the Yankees gave up seven runs and failed to emerge victorious, representing two of their three losses on the season.

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The Yankees should consider moving Clarke Schmidt back to the bullpen:

Schmidt hosts a 9.45 ERA, 5.22 xFIP, 10.80 strikeouts per nine, and a 31.8% ground ball rate across 6.2 innings. His velocity is around his career averages, but he’s had a difficult time shaping his pitches and dotting the corners, leaving sliders over the middle of the plate and failing to locate his fastballs efficiently.

In fact, Schmidt’s cutter, which he’s thrown 30% of the time this season, has produced a .667 batting average with one homer and six hits allowed. Opposing batters are hitting .400 against his sinker, failing to produce a strikeout with the pitch up to this point. His sweeper has done the most damage, producing a .182 batting average, but his fastballs have been inefficient. Schmidt added the cutter this past off-season to his repertoire, but it is still a developing pitch he’s had trouble locating.

Despite the fact that ace Gerrit Cole continues to advocate for Clarke, the Yankees may have no choice but to push him back into the bullpen after the performance of Jhony Brito in his second start.

Brito has been excellent over 10 innings to open his MLB account, giving up just one earned run and striking out 7.2 batters. He’s generating an 87.5% left-on-base rate and a phenomenal 56% ground ball rate.

Of course, the sample size is quite small, and opposing teams could end up catching up to Brito at some point, but for the time being, he’s been aggressive with his pitch selection and thrown strikes.

Brito is throwing a first-pitch strike on 51.4% of his opportunities and generating a swing on pitches outside the strike zone 38.1% of the time. Brito utilizes a sinker, four-seam fastball, change-up, slider, and curveball. His four-seam FB generates 31% more horizontal movement than the average pitcher, representing one of his best pitches. He produces far more horizontal break than vertical movement, so all of his pitches have a similar style in the way they move.

Up to this point, Jhony’s change-up is producing a .143 batting average against, and he hasn’t given up a hit utilizing his fastball just yet, which he’s thrown 26.8% of the time at 95.6 mph.

The truth is, Brito seems to have the perfect makeup for a starting pitcher, while Schmidt profiles better as a bullpen arm. Despite having decent longevity, Clarke struggles after the third inning when fatigue inevitably sets in. Some pitchers push through, and others begin to lose their accuracy, resulting in poor location and more efficient hitting.

With Domingo German still in the mix, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brito locked down a rotation spot until the return of Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino. Eventually, Schmidt will likely return to the bullpen, despite his desire to become a starter for the Yankees long-term.