Clarke Schmidt’s Cutter and Sweeper Completes a Surprising Overthrow

Last year was a tale of two seasons for Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt:

Clarke: 350 appearance of plaques, .236/.277/.405 oblique line against, 5.12 K/BB ratio, .292 wOBA vs.

Clarke B.: 344 appearance of plaques, .303/.375/.500 oblique line against, 2.14 K/BB ratio, .376 wOBA vs.

This is not an analysis of Schmidt’s first and second halves, but rather his splits against right-handed and left-handed hitters. Most pitchers have more success against hitters of equal skill, so it is not surprising that the right-hander fares better against righties (Clarke A) than against lefties (Clarke B).

What is surprising is the magnitude of the disparity.

Overall, righties played at a level comparable to Daulton Varsho or Zach McKinstry against Schmidt. But he turned all lefties into Kyle Tucker and Cody Bellinger, capping his ability to navigate a lineup as teams began deploying as many lefties as possible to try to neutralize the Yankee starter. Schmidt himself described facing left-handed lineups during this period as “treading water” as he tried to find a way to become consistently competitive at bat against them.

Schmidt’s hopes of closing the gap on lefties rested largely on his cutter. As 2023 progresses, the cutter has gradually become a more effective pitch against lefties. As Andrés Chávez wrote last June, Schmidt had a five-start streak last season in which he held lefties to a .521 OPS, giving rise to hopes that he had turned the corner.

That optimism was shaken later in the season, however, when he posted a 5.73 ERA in his final nine starts, including a nightmarish 2.1 inning, eight-run outing in August in which the Four lefties in the Braves’ lineup went a combined 6-for-8 with six RBIs.

Heading into this season, it would have been natural to worry about history repeating itself as Schmidt struggled to get lefties out. Instead, his performance in his first three starts was the opposite of what he endured last year. Thanks to his increasingly reliable cutter, which he throws to lefties almost as much as the rest of his pitches combined, he’s held the group to a miniscule .603 OPS. Opponents on both sides hit just .278 against his cutter, down from .457 last season.

Problem solved, right?

Not exactly. While Schmidt’s problem with lefties appears to be easing, a new problem with righties could be forming. The hitters Schmidt should have the platoon advantage against are crushing him this season to the tune of a 1.049 OPS against. The main culprit is his sweeper, which he uses primarily against righties and against which opponents hit .750 compared to .559 last year.

So what gives?

Schmidt’s sweeper has a similar drop and horizontal break almost an inch and a half more than last year, indicating that’s probably not the problem. His control of the field, however, was less precise at the start. Here’s the breakdown of Schmidt’s sweeps to right-handers last season:

Schmidt was able to keep his sweeper low and wide, usually off the plate, to right-handers last season, which led to infield efficiency. As you can see below, in a small sample size to start the season, he missed several times up the middle with his sweeper, including on a Jose Altuve home run that had an outsized impact on the sweeper’s overall stats. Schmidt.

It is encouraging, however, that there are signs that Schmidt was also the victim of some bad luck. Expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, and xwOBA against his sweeper are well below results and even lower than last year. His sweeper isn’t hit any harder either, as the average exit velocity allowed to him off the field is consistent with his 2023 performance (87.9 mph in 2024 vs. 89.1 mph in 2023).

Schmidt has only thrown 48 sweepers so far, so it’s too early to know more about his performance to start the season. Tonight, however, will be a valuable opportunity to determine whether Schmidt’s early struggles against righties are a fluke or a worrying trend. The Rays generally feature the type of right-handed lineup that Clarke used to feast on last season. If he looks sharp against them – and, more to the point, if his sweeper is effective against their right-handers – the 28-year-old could be ready to break out. If he appears to be treading water, however, it will be fair to wonder whether adjustments are needed in Schmidt’s approach to righties to avoid the reverse of a platoon split that has dedicated its 2023 to mediocrity.

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