When pressed to name most important members of the Yankees’ pitching staff, fans are likely to mention Gerrit Cole, of course, as well as Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, and Néstor Cortés Jr. in the rotation. Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loáisiga, Chad Green, and Clay Holmes are the foundations of the bullpen. And that’s all fine.
However, other pitchers can and will need to have a big impact on the 2022 staff if the Yankees are to succeed. Perhaps Deivi García could take that much-needed step forward; ditto for Clarke Schmidt. Lefty relievers Wandy Peralta and Joely Rodríguez are rock-solid in the bullpen and could develop into something more. Perhaps Luis Gil breaks out after showing promise in a brief call up last season. But there is one particular pitcher that has flown under the radar that could help the team in unexpected ways this season: Mike King.
At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much buzz about the right-hander, despite the flashes he showed in 2021. For the season, he had a solid 3.55 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 63.1 innings, with a 22.5 percent strikeout rate and an 8.7 walk rate. Good numbers to build on.
However, dig deeper, and King demonstrated real potential as a reliever. In 38.2 frames out of the bullpen, he was outstanding, with a 2.33 ERA and a 42-to-12 K/BB ratio. He held hitters to a .207/.281/.297 line and a .260 wOBA, which is borderline elite.
King was at his best as a multi-inning reliever, especially down the stretch. From July 3 on, he was used exclusively out of the bullpen. Over that span, he posted a 2.28 FIP in 19 innings, with a 24-to-4 K/BB ratio. That was a nine-game stint until the end of the season, so he averaged over two frames per outing.
It’s clear King could be a weapon as a reliever. Is there still potential for him as a starter? The surface numbers don’t suggest much, as a he ran a 5.47 ERA in 24.2 innings in the rotation. But there is some evidence to suggest King could still be an enticing option there, thanks the refinement of his deep arsenal. Working with pitching coach Matt Blake put him in a position to succeed because he, as our own Esteban Rivera explained late last season, improved the pitch movement profile of his sinker, found an effective four-seamer, and polished his whole pitch mix.
As a result, King doesn’t only project as a very good relief arm: since he fine-tuned his pitch mix and his offerings all improved in 2021, it’s not difficult to envision him chipping in some useful spot starts across this upcoming season,
He remains a sinkerballer, but he threw the pitch 53 percent of the time in 2021 (a decrease of almost seven percent compared to 2020) while using three secondary pitchers: a slider (15.4 percent usage, 28.8 percent whiff rate), a changeup (12.5 percent usage, 38.5 percent whiff rate) and a curveball (10.3 percent usage, 55.3 percent whiff rate).
One of the keys of his evolution, however, was the occasional use of a four-seam fastball (8.8 percent) with ‘rise’ that can miss bats up in the zone. He can dial it in between 95-97 mph and it’s really hard to catch up with up there.
The answer was 'Other', as Michael King's Four-Seam Fastball was the best in the Yankee staff. While a small sample, his FF was stellar, and when used in tandem with his changeup (.297 xwOBA/38.5% Whiff%), his curveball (55.3% Whiff%), and his sinker (-5 RV), it's a great mix. https://t.co/h5O5HRgJsv pic.twitter.com/RukZlyXskB— Statcast Bombers (@StatcastBombers) January 30, 2022
The sinker, with lots of horizontal movement, helps him create a much different look for hitters than the rest of his pitches:
Michael King, 96mph Sinker and 84mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/wAg9HInZPk— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 18, 2021
It’s not a crazy thought that King can win a rotation spot, depending on the plans the Yankees have for him.
Perhaps King’s ultimate value will come in his versatility. We know he can pitch well out of the bullpen, if his 2021 is any indication. Yet he also has the repertoire that suggests an ability to start. The lines between starter and reliever become blurrier by the year, and every team needs players that can fill multiple roles. Don’t be surprised if that’s what King provides to the Yankees in 2022. King may not be a household name yet, but he is shaping up to be a valuable piece for the Yankees, no matter his role.