In the first half of the season, when the Yankees were amidst a historic run of dominance that put them on a pace to potentially break the single season wins record, the bullpen was as automatic as you could ask for. When they were given a lead or a close game, Aaron Boone had no doubt the team was in a strong position to win. One big reason for that was the breakout of Michael King. King had shown flashes of who he could be in 2021, but his first few appearances in 2022 showed he was a new pitcher.
Despite only appearing in 34 games and having a season ending injury in early August, King still threw 51 innings with a combination of multi and single inning appearances. His final line and grade are as follows:
2022 Season Statistics: 2.23 FIP, 2.29 ERA, 33% K%, 1.7 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: First year arbitration eligible
King’s run of dominance put him atop the fWAR leaderboard for relievers as long as he was pitching. To me, there was no question he had been the most valuable reliefer pitcher in baseball to the point of his injury. In fact, when he (and others) hit the IL, the team changed. I won’t pretend to say that King alone is the reason for the team’s summer struggles, but he did provide Boone the flexibility to use other players in their strongest spots. King was splits-proof and can handle any hitter.
His return to the club in 2023 will be a reminder of how important he was to the team’s success. If it wasn’t for a significant elbow injury, I think King could have really put Boone in a tough position to decide on whether he should return to the rotation and assume the fifth spot. He has the arsenal to do it and now had shown mid-90s velocity that would put him over the edge. He proved he understands the difference between how he needs to use his sinker and 4-seamer, and on top of that, has one of the best right-handed sweepers in all of baseball. His deception in his mechanics and pitch mix make him a formidable candidate to work through lineups multiple times because he can provide different looks.
Maybe I’m just convincing myself that the team should still do it, but of course his injury brings that into question. Working King up into a different, more strenuous role after major elbow surgery would be complicated. That said, I think it’s rare to have a pitcher with an unquestionable five pitch mix that ends up in the bullpen. His mechanics are clean, and I would think the injury itself can likely be chalked up to randomness rather than any glaring mechanical inefficiencies. In letting Jameson Taillon walk, the fifth spot in the rotation is probably up for grabs, and provided his health in order, I see no reason why King doesn’t at least deserve a shot to claim it as his own if he arrives in spring training ready to go.
Perhaps I’m being naïve in my analysis of the situation, but it feels wasteful to stick a pitcher with such a well-rounded approach and three plus plus pitches in the bullpen when you could potentially have an extremely effective starter. He doesn’t need to be extended out to 150 innings pitched right away either, as the team has some cushions in place to protect him. Maybe there is more to be said here, but for now, I rest my case and acknowledge my appreciation for King’s phenomenal 2022 season.