Coming into this season, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Michael King. He had been in the Yankees system for a little while after coming over in a deal with the Miami Marlins and it seemed like the Yankees were fairly high on his potential, but I didn’t really see anything special. After a disastrous 2020 campaign — this is the part where I acknowledge that yes, 2020 was a relatively small sample size — my doubts about his future with the team continued to grow, even with all the question marks in the rotation entering this season. I just wasn’t exactly sure where he fit in with this team.
I’m happy to say that I got my answer this year. Despite appearing in just 22 games, he was able to throw over 60 innings with the Yankees in 2021, thanks in part to the hybrid long relief/spot starter role he carved out for himself. While he seemed more effective working out of a bullpen role rather than as a starter, he provided some serious length — while healthy — for a team that desperately needed it, more often than not.
2021 Statistics: 22 games, 63.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration
After the aforementioned disastrous 2020 campaign, King went back to the drawing board and made some subtle changes that he worked on throughout the year. This ultimately turned him into a true weapon in short-to-mid relief. If you’re interested in the specifics of these changes, Esteban wrote all about them at the end of September.
While nothing really leaps off the screen here, it is worth pointing out that King generates above-average spin on both his fastball and his curveball. In terms of value in Statcast data, though, it’s (predictably) the elite movement he generates on his pitches that helped him have such a solid season. In terms of horizontal movement, three of his pitches — his sinker, curveball, and changeup — all have elite levels of movement, with his four-seamer bringing up the rear in the great-but-not-quite-elite category.
Full disclosure, I mostly wanted to bring up that movement because this is one of my absolute favourite pitches thrown this season:
Michael King, Ridiculous 79mph Curveball.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 29, 2021
When you think you're gonna wear it in the knee...and it ends up on the outer half. pic.twitter.com/AtZ3m2drZt
But seriously, the movement King generates on his pitches is truly remarkable to see. I can’t be certain, but I imagine that this movement helps explain the fact that, while his hard-hit percentage is very poor, he managed to keep his barrels in check. In other words, King did get hit hard this year, but hitters had a hard time squaring him up, which ultimately led to him outperforming his expected stats. And when you see a pitch move like the one above, it’s no wonder.
The one big downside to King’s season was his unfortunate injury. During a workout session, a finger on his throwing hand got jammed between two weights and he ended up being placed on the IL on July 8th. He didn’t return to the mound until September 10th.
Luckily for the Yankees’ playoff hopes, however, King returned with a vengeance. From September 10th until the end of the season, King became a weapon out of the bullpen. In eight games, he pitched to a 3.00 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 9.0 K/9, and a sterling 1.8 BB/9. If you eliminate his one clunker against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 2nd, though, the ERA and FIP drop to 1.23 and 2.28, respectively. Now, obviously that’s not how baseball works, but the point is, King was throwing the best baseball of his career to end the season. That gives me a lot of hope for 2022.
On the fun side of things, King was also responsible for one of the best moments of the Yankees’ 2021 season, when he threw the seventh immaculate inning in team history against the Red Sox on June 4th.
All things considered, 2021 was a very solid year all-around for King. He showed us why the organization was so big on him, and he might have even carved out a nice little niche for himself on the team. Let’s hope he’s able to build on what he showed this year in 2022.