In case it wasn’t obvious, the Yankees have had a Clarke Schmidt problem this postseason.
In fairness, he hasn’t really been set up for success. He blew the save in Game 3 of the ALDS. In the Yankees 4-2 loss in Game 1 of the ALCS on Wednesday, he was asked to protect a 1-1 tie in immediate relief of starter Jameson Taillon. Schmidt failed, but more on that later.
The issue is though bullpen work isn’t entirely new for Schmidt, the Yankees view him as a mid-rotation starter. This makes sense since he throws a mid-90s fastball along with a slider, curveball, and changeup. His strong spring training in 2020 generated some serious buzz.
Yet, all but three of his appearances in the majors this season were out of the bullpen. All eight of games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, however, were starts.
Cut to today, and Clarke Schmidt is clearly the Yankee bullpen’s Swiss Army knife. Now, add that he’s gone 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in three games, and now the Yankees trail the Astros 1-0. All because Brian Cashman insists on using his young starter as a reliever until a spot opens in the rotation.
That’s all fine and good, except Schmidt doesn’t belong anywhere near high-leverage situations in the postseason. Oddly enough, the numbers prove me wrong and support the stats-obsessed Yankees. Clarke Schmidt posted a 2.74 ERA out of the bullpen compared to a 4.63 ERA in his three starts. Opposing hitters also batted just .175 against him in tie games, and .182 in what Baseball-Reference dubs “late & close.”
So what happened? Simply put, Clarke Schmidt was asked to be a strikeout pitcher against an Astros team that had the second-best strikeout rate (K%) in baseball. This shouldn’t be a tall order for him since he posted 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) in his minor league career.
Except in the minors, Schmidt was facing hitters still trying to find their way. The Houston Astros are not that. Not only do they not strike out, but they hit home runs. Schmidt would have been better off challenging the Hulk to a boxing match using baseball gloves.
And in fairness to Schmidt, circumstances weren’t ideal. Badly timed rainouts and playing ALDS Game 5 on Tuesday surely exhausted New York’s bullpen. One way or another, he was pitching in Game 1.
It was a pitch selection nightmare from the get-go. Instead of throwing his sinker to Alex Bregman, Schmidt tried to get him to chase his slider. Bregman walked to load the bases, but Kyle Tucker rolled a sinker to Gleyber Torres for an inning-ending double play.
The next inning, Schmidt got cocky and tried to fool Yuli Gurriel with a slider after the former batting champ whiffed on it. It was up and golfed into the Crawford Boxes when Schmidt should have pivoted to a fastball down. Chas McCormick poking a sinker over the right field wall was just plain bad luck.
The sole silver lining for the Yankees in this is Clarke Schmidt is not beyond repair. He has done enough in a small MLB sample that he can forge a path in the majors. Just where that path leads is up to the New York Yankees who, to be frank, probably didn’t help his development with constant trips to-and-from Scranton.
If New York views him as a starter, then they keep doing what they’re doing. For all intents and purposes, Clarke Schmidt is probably next year’s No. 5 in the rotation.
But it’s impossible to ignore what Schmidt did as a reliever in 2022 and that maybe his future is out of the bullpen. If that’s the case, then the Yankees have to decide between utilizing those K/9 or pitching to contact with the sinker.
Clarke Schmidt needs to be a starter or a reliever, and nothing in-between. The Yankees clearly drafted him in 2017 with the rotation in mind and his development path confirms that. But whether he was filling in for an injured pitcher or just an extra bullpen arm, the Yankees lost their way with Schmidt in 2022. It just cost them an important playoff game.
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