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  • Cory Claus

Yankees Clarke Schmidt is delivering

The Yankees have had a hard time developing starting pitchers. Clarke Schmidt seemed for some time to be just another failed attempt. Now it looks like Schmitty has broken the curse and is finally delivering on his promise.

Clarke Schmidt's Weapon of Choice

The Yankees haven’t produced a front-line starter for themselves since current advisor, Andy Pettitte. And that was in the last millennium.

There’ve been so many dreams dashed since then. For evidence, look no further than the current starting rotation. Domingo German looked like at least a two for a while, but his display of domestic violence seems to have derailed his career. His 4.77 ERA is fine for a fifth starter, but German is literally capable of throwing a perfect game.

And few pitchers have ever looked so much like a lock as Luis Severino. He came out of the system throwing gas and dominating the strike zone. Injuries and inconsistency, however, have been the hallmark of his time so far with the team.

The Yankees and their fans were hoping Sevvy would have a phenomenal year. He’s all the way back from injury and his fastball looks good. Instead, he’s thrown to a 6.46 ERA with a WHIP of 1.730. Both of those numbers are the worst on the team by far.

That’s not good enough to be a front-line starter, a back-end starter, or even a minor-league starter. Sevvy is an unrestricted free agent after this year and my guess is the Yankees will not restrict his freedom.

A Dream Denied

They did develop a true top-of-the-rotation ace in Chien-Ming Wang once upon a time. He was the winningest pitcher in the major leagues for three years (2007-2009), even though he spent half of 2009 on the injured list.

For those who don’t remember, Kevin Winterhalt described him this way for Pinstripe Alley several years ago:

In his sophomore season of 2006, he finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting to Johan Santana. Between that year and the next, he won a combined 38 games while throwing 417.1 innings and leading the AL both seasons in homers allowed per nine innings (0.5 and 0.4 HR/9, respectively). The secret to his success? A devastating sinker that none other than Andrew Eugene Pettitte had gushing praise for, calling it “an ultimate weapon, like Johan Santana and his changeup ... It’s the best sinker I’ve ever seen.”

2008 started much the same, with CMW winning six of his first seven starts, including a two-hit gem at Fenway Park on April 11th against the defending champion Red Sox. He came into his June start in Houston well on his way to another successful season. The baseball gods had other plans for the young right-hander whose star burned so brightly that he made PSA’s All-Supernova Team.

But in a cruel twist of fate for both him and the Yanks, he was injured while running the bases in June of 2009. Even more cruel, based on what’s transpired the last few years, he was injured against the cheating scumbag Houston Astros. Houston was at that time in the National League long before they adopted the DH.

Wang limped off the field then limped along for a few more seasons with a few other clubs, but his career essentially ended on that fateful day.

Since then, the team actually did produce a few starting pitchers, guys like Adam Warren, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes. But their collective success as starters was never great, and all for other teams.

One name that needs to be mentioned is Jordan Montgomery. He looked every bit to be a solid two or superior three. But for some bizarre reason, the Yankees traded him last year for Harrison Bader, who they now might trade for prospects. And not great ones.

The now-bearded lefty currently owns a 3.37 ERA for the bottom-dwelling Cardinals. If he were still with the Yankees, maybe they wouldn’t be bottom dwellers themselves.

Yankees Take a Chance

Then, in 2017, the Yankees spent their first-round pick on Clarke Schmidt.

He looked like the next big thing.

Schmidt was the Friday night under the lights guy, the one the University of South Carolina Gamecocks gave the ball to in big games. They rarely regretted the decision. Going into that season, Schmitty was named to the Preseason All-America first team. He then went out and delivered on that promise by going 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA in his nine starts.

Normally, the Yankees could never have hoped to draft Clarke all the way down at pick number 16. But fate intervened to deliver him to Bombers in the form of a torn ulnar collateral ligament halfway through his season. All the teams in front of the Yankees proceeded with caution with a pitcher already out with Tommy John surgery.

So the Yankees stepped up. They took out their crystal ball and saw a future when Schmidt would be healed and healthy and a killer on the mound.

Maybe, Maybe Not

That prediction looked likely to come true during his two years in the minors. Here’s how he looked by late 2020:

The right-hander is the second ranked prospect in the Yankees system and the 93rd overall on MLB’s Top 100 prospects list for 2020. In two minor league seasons, Schmidt accumulated a 3.39 ERA and 132 strikeouts over 114 inning pitched.

I was back in Seattle at that time. When I heard of his promotion, I told a young Yankees fan to remember the name Clarke Schmidt because he was going to be the next big thing.

Except he wasn’t.

In very limited action, he put up a 7.11 ERA. That was easy to overlook because a lot of guys struggle their first time up.

But then the next season started with ominous news: Schmidt was injured again.

That sent alarm bells through the organization as it looked like he might be an injury prone never-was.

But Clarke worked hard back in the minors, starting all the way back down in Low-A Tampa. His hard work paid off when he made his way back to the big club by the end of the year.

Once again, his showing was poor, pitching to a 5.68 ERA. No one was making any decisions on his future based on those six innings, but it did create some concern if he would ever develop.

Last season saw him finally make significant strides. Clarke pitched in a variety of roles, including as an opener, a concept that is already being phased out. By the end of the year, Schmidt had accumulated an excellent 3.12 ERA across 57 ⅔ innings.

Still, if you watched him pitch, he just wasn’t dominant. He still looked nothing like a front-line star. His WHIP of 1.197 bore this out. His major problem? Lefties. He wasn’t able to put them away with his arsenal and it showed.

It looked like more of the same when this season started.

He started slowly and by the end of his fourth start, he had an astronomical ERA of 8.79. He wasn’t pitching well, and he wasn’t going deep into games. Finally, on May 14th, he had his worst start of the year, giving up seven earned runs in 4⅔ innings against the then-first-place Rays.

Yankees fans were thinking the guy was a bust, and with good reason.

Yankees' Clarke Schmidt Finds his Groove

Then he started to turn things around. You see, Schmitty had developed a cutter in the off-season. But it took him a while to master his new weapon, as reported by Greg Joyce for the Post.

“It was still a really good pitch, it’s just I was using it wrong, and I was throwing it to the wrong locations. … You have the trial by error and you’re like, ‘OK, now I know I can’t throw it here, I can throw it here.’ It’s part of the game. You have to fail to make adjustments. Unfortunately, that’s the way this game is.”
In five starts since then, with Schmidt gaining a better understanding of how to use the cutter and throwing it even more, lefties have hit .205 with a .521 OPS and zero home runs against him.
Against the cutter, opponents were hitting just .182 with a .273 slugging percentage.

Slowly, Schmidt gained control of the cutter; slowly, he started to turn into the pitcher the Yankees thought he could be.

Since that low point, Schmidt has ripped off a series of quality starts. He’s accomplished that in ten of his eleven starts, including three shutouts over the innings he’s pitched (as opposed to complete game shutouts). And he’s going deeper into games. In his last two starts, he went six full innings followed by 5⅔.

Even more promising are his performances in June and July. Clarke ended last month with a 3.04 ERA over his five starts. His WHIP, though, was too high at 1.238, but his results were great.

This month, he’s turned that around. His ERA is up a tad to 4.15 in three starts, but he’s controlled the strike zone better to produce a WHIP of 0.865. That’s the best in any month this year.

Simply put, Clarke Schmidt has been the Yankees' second-best pitcher since the middle of May.

The only problem for the Yankees now is that Schmidt is running into an innings limit. Two years ago, Schmidt only threw 38 innings, while last year he pitched 90 innings. He’s already thrown 99 this year, so something has to give.

The most likely scenario is that the team sends him down when Nestor Cortes returns so that Schmidt can keep pitching but at a much-reduced rate.

Come September, he’ll be back.

And the Yankees will need him. One of the great parts of having him in the rotation is his difference from Cole and Rodon. Those men blow people away with their fastballs. Schmidt, on the other hand, is dominating with his slider, sweeper, and of course his newfound cutter.

He looks right now like a number two in the rotation. But because the Yankees have both Rodon and Cole, Schmidt is their number three. That’s a great front end of the rotation.

It’s taken time, but Clarke Schmidt is finally delivering. He’s delivering pitches in the strike zone, and wins for the Yankees. And he's delivering on his promise.

Now we need to see him deliver in the postseason. Then and only then will he be the next big thing.



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