Clarke Schmidt Addresses His Cutter and the Slider/Sweeper Conundrum

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke Schmidt had mixed results in his first season as a big league starter. The 27-year-old New York Yankees right-hander took the mound 33 times (including once as a reliever) and won nine of 18 decisions while logging a 4.64 ERA and a 4.42 FIP. Working primarily in five- and six-inning stints — 21 of his outings were between 5.0 and 6.2 innings — he allowed 169 hits and fanned 149 batters over 159 frames.

A new pitch played prominently in what is now a well-balanced repertoire. Schmidt added a cutter this year, and while it wasn’t his best offering results-wise — that honor goes to his curveball — it was his most used. All told, his usage breakdown was 28.1% cutters, 27.4% slider/sweepers, 23.9% sinkers, 19.1% curveballs, and 1.5% changeups.

Thirteen months ago, I sat down with Schmidt to discuss his sweeping slider, a pitch that was referred to in the subsequently published piece as a “baby whirly.” This past September, I circled back to hear about his cutter — and I had something else in mind as well. With the definition of “sweeper” increasingly becoming a matter of debate, I wanted to know how he currently labels the most horizontal of his offerings.


David Laurila: What is the story behind your cutter?

Clarke Schmidt: “The reason they wanted me to add the cutter was lefties. The idea was that I could throw a fastball to lefties and be able to induce either A) weak contact or B) a swing-and-miss. That was the real reason, and then once I started throwing it we realized that my arm action was built even more for a cutter than they thought. The metrics on my cutter are really good. Analytically it became one of my best pitches, which is why they were like, ‘Why don’t we up the usage of this?’

“I started throwing it to righties as well as to lefties, and it’s really helped play up my sinker a little bit. I mean, it’s hurt my sinker in that I’m losing some [arm-side] horizontal, because I’m trying to cut the ball so much, but it’s been playing up because it’s hard for a hitter to determine if it’s going to be a cutter or a sinker.”

Laurila: What is the velocity difference between your sinker and your cutter?

Schmidt: “It’s pretty close. The cutter averages around 90-91 [mph] and the heater has been averaging around 93-94. My [fastball] velocity is maybe down a little bit from last year, but that can be from multiple factors. For one, this is my first year throwing a lot of innings. I’m also getting on the side of the ball more, and that’s one of the things I’m going to focus on next year. I’m going to work on staying behind the fastball a little bit more over the offseason.”

Laurila: You obviously don’t want to end up compromising your cutter in the process.

Schmidt: “Right. That slight change — that slight degree change — can make the ball cut drastically, or make you stay behind it a lot more. But they really encouraged my cutter because of how much horizontal it has. And again, it’s 90-91, which is pretty hard for a cutter as far as starters go. They like the movement profile, and it’s been fun to have that in my pitch package.”

Laurila: What are the metrics on it?

Schmidt: “I think it averages around 10 vert and close to three horizontal.”

Laurila: How much horizontal are you getting on your sweeper?

Schmidt: “I think I’m averaging around eight to nine.”

Laurila: Not that it’s necessarily a sweeper. When we talked last year, the term was “whirly.” Because yours doesn’t have big sweep, I believe that I called it a “baby whirly” in the article.

Schmidt: “Yeah. Right, right, right. That’s what they were calling it: the whirly. Now they’ve fully embraced the sweeper here. That’s what it shows on the scoreboard when I throw one, so I guess that’s what it is.”

Laurila: Right before we started talking, you called it a slider.

Schmidt: “Yeah, the verbiage on it… I mean, I kind of go back and forth. I don’t really care. Growing up, it was always, ‘This is a slider.’ If it was breaking left with a lot of horizontal it was a slider, but now I guess it’s getting the term ‘sweeper.’ Whatever they want to call it.”

Laurila: That said, do you have a preference? For instance, what do you call it when you’re asked about your repertoire?

Schmidt: “I think I always revert back to saying slider, because that’s what I was brought up with. But sweeper has kind of taken over, so I guess that is the correct term.”

Laurila: Not baby whirly?

Schmidt: “No. I think I’ll put that in the past.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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5 months ago

It’s cool that Schmidt is so into the analytics and metrics. OTOH I’ve heard anecdotes of him coming back to the dugout between innings and being more concerned with what his spin rate was that inning than location, sequencing, etc. It’s possible to be too focused on analytics.

Willians Astu-stu-studillomember
5 months ago
Reply to  keithk

That was identified as a possible reason he struggled in April. It seems he learned his lesson and found success until he got tired at the end of August.