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Clarke Schmidt has turned around his season-long struggle against lefties

Improved command and smarter use of his cutter and curveball combo have helped the righty improve a lot against lefty hitters.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees right-hander Clarke Schmidt had a horrible start of the season, and if it weren’t for the litany of injuries that has affected the Bombers’ rotation, he could have lost his spot a while ago. That wasn’t the case, and he was gifted with the chance of turning back his season.

If you read Schmidt’s stat line, you would say he has been mediocre. After all, he has a 4.70 ERA in 14 starts and 67 innings of work. His 19/70 BB/K ratio, 4.31 FIP and 3.92 xFIP (and 3.88 SIERA) are all encouraging, though, and he has been a lot better in his most recent five turns.

In those five starts since May 19th, Schmidt has a 2.33 ERA, a 3.76 FIP and a 5/22 BB/K ratio in 27 frames. A lot of his success can be attributed to finding a way to deal with left-handed hitters.

For Schmidt’s career, lefties have a .305/.387/.502 line against him, as opposed to the .227/.291/.357 line he has held righties to. This year, lefties are hitting .313/.382/.523 off him, and righties are at .254/.286/.442. The difference is considerable.

However, in his last five outings, Schmidt has done wonders at neutralizing lefties. He is holding them to a .205/.271/.250 line, a marked improvement over his career and rest-of-the-season numbers.

As you probably know by now, Schmidt spent the offseason working on a cutter to help him deal with left-handed hitters. For a while, it didn’t work, but as our own Noah Garcia recently noted, the hurler made some adjustments on the pitch and it finally took off in May.

Noah specifically mentioned a slight speed and movement-related adjustment to create separation from the sinker and induce a lot of weak contact as one of the reasons Schmidt’s cutter has been much more effective. Command, however, has also taken a step forward.

This is Schmidt’s pitch chart from his most recent start against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend, when he conceded just one run in 5.1 frames and was in line for a victory until the puzzling Gleyber Torres mistake cost the Yankees a run and, ultimately, the game. This is exclusively against lefty hitters, though:

Baseball Savant

You can see how Schmidt generally avoided the fat part of the strike zone. The intent was, generally speaking, to throw it inside, with the exception of a few high ones and a couple in the outer part of the zone.

The increased separation in speed and movement from the sinker and the improved command have given Schmidt more confidence on the pitch. Against Boston, he used it 39 percent of the time against lefty hitters, with 12.2 percent sinkers and 19.5 percent curveballs. When facing righties, the split was 24.4 percent sinkers, 26.8 percent cutters and 17.1 percent of hooks.

Schmidt has been using a lot of cutters against lefties all season, but his command has markedly improved since the start of the year and that has made a difference. Take, for example, his performance on his first game of the season: April 1st against the San Francisco Giants (also against left-handed batters):

Command can come and go between starts, but Schmidt is apparently growing more confident on his cutter as a legitimate weapon against lefties. That, and the usage of his excellent curveball (usually burying it in the dirt or in the bottom part of the zone) as a put-away pitch against them has allowed him to improve.

The cutter-curveball combo helps Schmidt induce enough weak contact and whiffs to succeed against what has been his kryptonite for his entire career: lefties.