In our Opening Day Twitter Spaces, PSA’s own Peter Brody and Joshua Diemert discussed Michael King’s potential role going forward on the Yankees. Even with the Yankees’ heavy investment into pitching analytics and player development strategies, roles in the bullpen have always been well defined. In that context, King most likely functions as a swingman on this team, but that may not be the best way to get the most out of him. Last season, I was getting sold on King as the season progressed, and after his first outing, I’m feeling even more confident in that.
In his first appearance of this season against the Red Sox, King was extremely effective across two scoreless (aside from the ghost runner) innings. He struck out three and yielded 14 whiffs on 23 pitches. That is as dominant as two short innings can get. Because of the nature of his curveball, or better yet, his whirly, I expected him to come out with a heavy doses of that and the sinker. But like he did last year, he mixed in his four-seam very effectively, getting three whiffs on five pitches. He kept that pitch in the top of the zone, and it wasn’t just a different look — it was a weapon in its own right.
With that pitch, an effective sinker that was good for five called strikes mostly on the back door, and potentially the best sweeper/whirly in all of baseball, King showed how uncomfortable he could make hitters in any given at-bat. Last year, only two pitchers in all of baseball got more sweep on their curveball than King. With an average horizontal movement of 17.6 inches, the pitch was and still is an outlier. It almost perfectly resembles that of Corey Kluber’s, which has been pointed out on several occasions in the last week or so. It is a non-magnus movement pitch, aka, the seam-shifted wake properties are very strong.
This wasn’t King’s best whirly of the day, but it shows exactly how special the pitch is. When a right-handed pitcher locates a sweeper in this part of the zone, it is almost always a backed up hanger — the kind of pitch that goes perfectly into a hitter’s bat path. For King, it did not matter even against a hitter of Story’s caliber. A normal top spinning curveball’s spin direction is usually easy when it gets backed up as such, but with a seam-shifted wake curveball, the pitch changes the path it appears to be on, and can be very difficult for a hitter to adjust to, like what you saw with Story. In the most ideal world, this pitch is sweeping out of the zone away to a righty, but because it is just so nasty, it can still yield these types of awfully timed swings.
King has the stuff to be more than just a spot starter. He may not have the super high velocity fastball, but he can spin the ball like a wizard. If he is not a full-time starter, then he needs to be used often out of the pen, throwing multiple innings every single time. As Josh said in the Twitter Spaces, this has been dabbled around with a bit across the league. With the Yankees having as much depth as they do, it is the perfect opportunity to get the very most out of King.
I know there is a reason we don’t see this done in the big leagues more often — it is obviously very difficult. It’s a college style move to use a reliever in such way because there are fewer usable relievers. But why can’t the Yankees do the same with King because they have so many talented relievers? He can come in extra innings against a great lineup and make hitters uncomfortable, or he can follow up a starter when the previous game taxed the bullpen. Either way, it’s nice to have that kind of weapon that can be deployed across many situations. I’m excited to see what King will do this season.