Clarke Schmidt was going to have to compete with Domingo Germán for a rotation spot heading into the first day of spring training. He had successful appearances nonetheless, but due to injuries to Carlos Rodón and Frankie Montas, he finds himself now sitting in a solidified spot.
On Saturday, Schmidt made his first start of 2023 against the San Francisco Giants. Even though the box score might not look very kind, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic moving forward about the right-hander’s ability on the mound as a starting pitcher.
So, what went wrong? Schmidt pitched 3.1 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, two of which came off the long ball, and walked one batter while striking out five. His ERA came out as an 8.10, and even though he had an xFIP of 2.94 and wasn’t formally tagged with a loss, there should be no doubt that Schmidt wants that fourth inning back after doing well to put down the Giants hitters.
It’s reasonable to discern that the issues began when Schmidt had to fight his way through a 32-pitch second inning. By the end of his afternoon, he’d tossed 76 pitches while recording 10 outs, and the most damaging offering of all came on a 3-0 count to Brandon Crawford.
The first homer the Schmidt surrendered was to Joc Pederson in the fourth, which was, in all honesty, a pretty impressive pitch to dig out. Unlike the Crawford homer, it was well below the zone, but the outfielder managed to get bat to ball and send it into the seats.
The two homers added a combined 28.2 percent to the Giants’ win percentage, and it was a number of smaller events that happened later in the game that led to the Yankees' defeat.
The end of the game for Schmidt wasn’t ideal, and his stamina is something that will improve with time. But, it’s important to remember that he’s still relatively new to this whole starting gig in the majors, and one bad pitch to Crawford should not impugn the otherwise solid performance.
First, we can start with his curveball. Schmidt distributed his repertoire fairly evenly, throwing his cutter (which I’ll dive into shortly) and sweeper 27 and 25 times, respectively, while also throwing his curve and sinker 12 times each.
The curveball that has frozen previous batters was on full display despite being thrown a relatively small number of times. Schmidt threw it almost exclusively to left-handed batters (10-2) and generated a whopping 42.9-percent whiff rate and over 3000 RPMs of spin. Last season, his curveball spin was in the 94th percentile, and it averaged slightly over 2900 RPMs. So, if he can keep that kind of movement up, we could see another year where Schmidt can utilize that pitch to put batters away.
But the curveball wasn’t the only pitch of interest in Schmidt’s first outing. The way he used his cutter was also something to key in on, and looking back at the at-bats, it is curious the kind of movement he was able to achieve.
I created a reel of three cutters that Schmidt threw (one to LaMonte Wade Jr. and two to Crawford, who are both lefties). The first pitch in the reel by Baseball Savant had four inches of horizontal movement to the right, and the third pitch had two inches of horizontal movement to the right. The second pitch, however, differed. It had an inch of horizontal movement to the left, heading to the inside.
Here are the locations of the pitches in the Crawford at-bat, with pitches one and three indicating where the cutters ended up.
Now, whether this is intentional is the question. The cutter is a new pitch for Schmidt, so if the differentiation in horizontal movement direction is random because he’s getting used to throwing it, that’s one thing. However, if the righty is throwing the pitch differently to try and experiment with different kinds of grips and see what movement comes from it, the cutter could be a real weapon moving forward. Having a cut fastball that can move both as a normal cutter and a “short slider,” as my colleague Peter Brody refers to it as, may change the way he approaches batters and makes his arsenal a tad more diverse.
From observing the way his pitches move and spin to the kind of production he had before the nightmare at the back end of his start, there are plenty of reasons for Yankees fans to be hopeful for Schmidt moving forward. Some changes need to be made and the stamina could be slightly improved, but there are real signs that Schmidt could be a bona fide starter through the 2023 regular season and beyond.