In the wake of Frankie Montas’ shoulder injury and his absence for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees need to determine what to do with the fifth spot in the rotation.
According to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, Clarke Schmidt is a candidate to spend that first month of the 2023 campaign as the Yankees’ fifth starter. He is not the only one, though: Domingo Germán could occupy the role.
There will likely be a competition during spring training between Germán, Schmidt, and other arms for that gig. We don’t know who will win, but the Yanks would be better off with the former first-round pick. Germán is an adequate backend starter, but doesn’t miss many bats and thus his upside is limited. Schmidt, on the other hand, has breakout potential from the rotation if he can gain more consistency with his “hard stuff” (four-seamer and sinker).
Let’s start with some of his overall numbers. Schmidt was mostly a starter in his stint at Triple-A and left with a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings, alongside a brilliant 2.11 FIP and a rock-solid 9/46 BB/K ratio. In the majors he was mostly a reliever, starting just three of his 29 games. He was often used for multiple innings, though, and had a good 3.12 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 57.2 frames, with a 23/56 BB/K ratio.
One of the keys to Schmidt’s success in 2022 was the development of his sweeping slider. In 2020, he didn’t have a slider, and he started incorporating one in 2021 and throwing it 18.2 percent of the time. Now, it’s the pitch he uses more often, at 37.9 percent. Schmidt has talked about the emergence of this pitch, as he told FanGraphs’ David Laurila in September, and it shined with an excellent 41 percent whiff rate and yielded an elite .240 xwOBA.
Now, it would be ideal if his next-best pitch was a fastball, but it’s really his curveball. Clocking in with a 23.9 percent whiff rate, it isn’t elite at missing bats, but its .199 xwOBA in 2022 was amazing.
Schmidt’s sinker and four-seamer are still works in progress, but there is no denying the tools are there. His average fastball velocity is at 94.9 mph, and he ranks in the 93rd percentile in fastball spin. A readjustment of his release point/spin axis could help him take advantage of that situation.
Even without a top fastball, Schmidt’s decent velocity and excellent breaking balls give him a nice floor. If he manages to make his sinker more effective, the potential is there for a breakout in 2023.
When having two pitchers with a similar floor like the Yankees do with Germán and Schmidt, it makes sense to go with the option with the most upside. Now, Germán also has some fine breaking balls, but he has pitched for much longer than Schmidt and still can’t establish himself as more than a baseline MLB starter.
Germán is more of a pitch-to-contact guy, or at least that’s what he showed in 2022 after a series of shoulder issues. Schmidt has more of a strikeout game, and things could get really interesting if he can break through.
Financially speaking, it makes the most sense for the Yankees to give the player with five remaining years of service time a longer look than the guy who will be a free agent after 2024. Can you imagine how valuable Schmidt could be if he took a step forward and became a reliable mid-rotation starter?
Schmidt has been a successful starter at every minor league stop. It’s time he gets a legitimate chance.