Clarke Schmidt needs to step up following Yankees' starting rotation injuries

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As Spring Training approached, the New York Yankees' rotation, which appeared to be the best in Major League Baseball with bonafide aces Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón leading the way, took a number of big hits.

At the beginning of February, All-Star Nestor Cortes Jr. suffered a hamstring injury, causing him to miss the World Baseball Classic and delaying his Spring Training debut until March 18. His status will be worth monitoring as we approach Opening Day.

A week after Cortes’ injury was revealed, the team announced Frankie Montas needed shoulder surgery and will miss most of the 2023 season. Montas recently admitted that his shoulder wasn't 100% when he was traded to the Yankees last summer (something general manager Brian Cashman refuted).

Most recently, Rodón went down with a forearm issue and will start the season on the injured list. While he's a talented pitcher, his extensive injury history makes the six-year, $162 million contract the Yankees gave him risky, and it's uncertain if he'll pitch at least 150 innings in his first season in New York.

Given the injuries plaguing the starting rotation, the Yankees need former top prospect Clarke Schmidt to step up in 2023. A homegrown player selected in the first round of the MLB Draft back in 2017, Schmidt made his MLB debut in 2020 but didn’t get significant time with the big league team until 2022.

In 50.2 innings last year, Schmidt pitched to a 3.12 ERA, but only made three starts after mostly being utilized out of the bullpen. With Rodón expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the season, Schmidt will likely be in the rotation through April. However, even if Rodón returns without issue, Schmidt may be needed in the rotation if Cortes' hamstring issue lingers or if Luis Severino, who has an extensive injury history himself, needs a stint on the IL.

Although he has limited experience as a starter at the big league level, Schmidt has all of the tools to be successful. As a five-pitch pitcher, Schmidt has a large toolbox to deploy, but he mostly features his slider and sinker.

His slider was by far his most effective pitch in 2022. According to Eno Sarris’ pitching model, Schmidt’s slider had a 125 Stuff+ (85th percentile among pitchers with at least 50 IP) and a 112 Pitching+ (86th percentile among pitchers with at least 50 IP).

While his sinker isn’t nearly as effective, it’s a good complementary pitch to his slider. Schmidt’s slider is his put-away pitch, but his sinker is a big reason for his 42.1 ground ball percentage –- a significant number when considering his home ballpark.

Schmidt’s 30.2 called strikes + whiffs (CSW) percentage shows he does a good job of attacking the strike zone, but his 23.7 strikeout percentage was only slightly above league average. If Matt Blake can help further develop Schmidt’s fastball – which has above average spin and velocity – Schmidt should see an increase in strikeouts as he’ll have another wipeout pitch in addition to his slider.

In an ideal world, Schmidt won’t be used primarily as a starting pitcher, but the Yankees need him to step up in the event that its injury issues don’t improve. He needs to solidify his role on the team, and if he can deliver starts and then transition back into a mid-to-late bullpen option, he'll finally be an asset.