After being acquired in a November 2017 trade with the Marlins, Michael King made his MLB debut for the Yankees in the final series of the 2019 regular season. He had been a 12th-round draft pick, and wasn’t on the radar of any top-100 prospect lists, but King rose rapidly thanks to a lights-out 2018. In 161 innings across three levels, he posted a sub-2.00 ERA, including a 1.15 mark at Triple-A. An injury in spring training limited King’s chances to pitch in 2019, but he did enough to eventually earn the promotion to the bigs as a September call-up.
Coming into 2020, he was expected to be part of the so-called “Scranton Shuttle” the team has used in recent years. King was always likely to go back and forth between the majors and minors, providing some bullpen depth and maybe an occasional spot start. That basically is what he ended up doing, but thanks to the weirdness of the season as a whole, that comes with a caveat.
2020 Statistics: 9 games, 26.2 IP, 7.76 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 5.09 xFIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration eligible
King had to make his 2020 debut way earlier in the season than we would’ve anticipated/hoped. James Paxton was knocked out in the second inning of the second game of the season, kicking off his issues for the year. King was who Aaron Boone brought in to relieve him.
King’s performance that day resembled how is whole season went. He pitched decently for a while, but eventually things caught up to him. In 3.1 innings, he allowed four runs on four hits after retiring six of the first seven hitters he faced.
Eight of his nine appearances this season were either starts or multi-inning outings. Most of them tended to follow that same pattern; a decent start out of the gate, followed by a turn for the worse as the game progressed. Other than a 0.2-inning appearance against the Blue Jays and a three-inning, one-run performance against the Red Sox, he allowed at least two runs every time he pitched. Considering that his longest outing of the season was four innings, that’s less than ideal.
It could be that King just isn’t that great and is never going to live up to the minor league numbers that got him on the radar to begin with. On the other hand, he also really hasn’t a normal season in a few years now. As mentioned, he dealt with an injury in 2019. This year hasn’t been normal for anyone, but it especially wreaked havoc on developing pitchers. Yes, there was the alternate site, but that can’t have been the same as actual minor league game action. King could very well be someone that suffered from the lack of chances to throw against similar-aged minor league competitors.
Even if his 2020 wasn’t great, King showed just enough potential that he’s probably not going anywhere just yet. He’s still several years off arbitration, never mind free agency. Seeing as he’ll likely get plenty of run in the majors next year, hopefully we can look at his career ERA after the 2021 season, look at it comparted to the 7.22 it currently is, and say to him “you dropped this, King.”