Clarke Schmidt Throws a Baby Whirly

© Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke Schmidt has added an important weapon to his arsenal since he was first featured here at FanGraphs in January 2021. Given the organization he plays for, it isn’t much of a surprise that that addition is a sweeping slider — or, in New York Yankees vernacular, a “whirly.” The 26-year-old right-hander is throwing his version of the pitch 37.2% of the time this season, and with great success: Opposing hitters are batting just .148 against the offering, with a .164 SLG and a .186 wOBA.

His overall numbers are likewise impressive. The 2017 first-round pick has made 23 appearances this year — all but three out the bullpen — and boasts a 2.82 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. He’s allowed 41 hits and fanned 51 batters in the same number of innings.

Schmidt discussed his “baby whirly” when the Yankees visited Fenway Park earlier this month.


David Laurila: We talked pitching prior to last season. What’s changed since that time?

Clarke Schmidt: “When we spoke, I wouldn’t have been throwing a slider. That’s the main thing I’ve added, and it’s probably been my biggest pitch this year. My usage has been high, and I’ve had some really good results with it. Beyond that, I’ve cleaned up some things — some arm path stuff — and there has probably been more maturity in my pitch selection. But I’d say that the slider has been the number one change.”

Laurila: I recall you saying in January 2021 that some people considered your curveball more of a slider.

Schmidt: “For sure. I’ve always had a big breaking ball, but it’s hard — it’s 84-85 [mph] — so even though people are throwing harder curveballs now, it does get considered a slider sometimes. But now that I’m throwing both, there are distinct differences. I have two different shapes.

“The slider is a pitch I’ve been able to throw more strikes with. I’ve always had trouble with… the curveball is sometimes really hard to land. You pigeonhole yourself into trying to land it for strikes, and if you can’t land it for strikes, then you have to just throw fastballs out there. So for me, it’s been about having that higher strike percentage pitch, and something I can change shapes with.”

Laurila: Has your curveball changed at all?

Schmidt: “Not really. It’s the same pitch, and I think it’s maybe even gotten a little bit better.”

Laurila: Which is maybe a little counterintuitive…

Schmidt: “It is a little bit counterintuitive, but I’m not… before, I’d be ripping it and really trying to get the big shapes that I wanted. Now, because I know that it’s okay if I miss with it — I’m trying to get a swing-and-miss on it more than anything else — I can kind of pick my spots when I want to throw it. I don’t feel pigeonholed into trying to land it.”

Laurila: Is the slider you’ve developed a “whirly”?

Schmidt: “It is, but while a lot of guys will throw the exact same whirly, with the same metrics, mine is a lot harder. My slider has been around 87-88, so there’s more value in the velocity of it than there is in the other metrics. To a hitter’s eye, when it’s a harder breaking ball… you see these gyro sliders that are only moving two to three inches, but they’re 89-90 and are getting swings-and-misses. I’m getting probably nine to 10 horizontal, which is why I think I’ve had a lot of success with it this year.”

Laurila: Some guys are getting 20-plus inches, so yours is kind of a baby whirly…

Schmidt: “Exactly. A lot of dudes are getting 20, but they’re throwing it at 80-82, so the ball has a lot more time to move. Having one that’s shorter and harder also allows me to be in the zone. I’m always in the zone and can kind of move it around spots.”

Laurila: Was the extra velocity something you were striving for, or is it more a case of shorter and harder coming more naturally for you?

Schmidt: “I think it was just kind of the way it happened. I was trying to learn it for a time — it took me months to really get it right — and after fiddling with some things and finding some cues, I finally started getting the break that I wanted. I was getting consistent horizontal movement, and it was just really hard. I couldn’t slow it down. I mean, if I were to go out there and try to throw a slow whirly right now, something around 20 horizontal… that would be really hard for me to do, just because of the way I throw.

“Really, the whole idea behind me throwing a slider is that my curveball was too big and slow. We wanted something in the 86-89 range and it’s what we ended up finding. The goal… if it was a cutter, it was a cutter, and if it was a hard slider, it was a hard slider. A hard slider is what it ended up being, and it was the whirly grip that worked for me.”

Laurila: Who taught it to you?

Schmidt: “A lot of the credit has to go to Desi [Druschel], who was the pitching coach at Triple-A last year. He and Sam [Briend] really taught me it. Honestly, a lot of our pitchers know it really well. Greg Weissert knows his really well. His is big and slow — like, it’s really big. But he kind of has a lower release height and really gets around the ball. I’m coming from a little bit of a higher release height, which is why you see the shorter break metrics on it.”

Laurila: Do you get any vertical on it, or just horizontal?

Schmidt: “It does get some vertical. It almost has that rise to it. That’s where you get the whirly.”

Laurila: The vertical isn’t depth, but rather ride…

Schmidt: “Yes. I have a lot of hitters swing under my slider. That’s rare — hitters are usually swinging over it — but sometimes when I’m throwing up to lefties, or I’m throwing up and away to righties, hitters will swing under it. Some of that might be approach angle, and also — I could be wrong with this — a little bit of it has to do with the seam-shifted wake. I have a seam-shifted wake sinker, and the slider is seam-shifted as well — but it’s double seam-shifted. Both of the seams are doing it. That’s kind of the idea behind the whirly. They wanted to get some vertical to it.”

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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1 year ago

Great insight into Schmidt’s breaking stuff!