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Should the Yankees be worried about Michael King?

The right-handed reliever has hit a wall in recent outings, and his ERA has gone up in a hurry.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Michael King has been one of the Yankees’ best relievers on the 2022 season as a whole. Names have fallen off the depth chart because of various reasons, yet the sinkerballer is still an integral part of the team’s plans this year.

King has a 3.10 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP across 29 innings this year, with 38 strikeouts against just six walks. Those are valuable numbers. He was, together with Clay Holmes, the Yankees’ most reliable reliever in April.

That month, the right-hander dominated to the tune of a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings, walking just three hitters and fanning 20. He held opposing hitters to a .218 wOBA in the season’s first month and looked downright nasty.

However, May hasn’t been as kind to King. For the month, he has a 5.06 ERA in 16 frames, and has allowed nine of his ten earned runs in 2022 over a stretch that started on May 8 until Sunday, in which his ERA sat at an ugly 7.15 in 11.1 innings.

King has been scored upon in his last three outings, conceding six runs in just 3.1 frames. Something appears to have changed as of late, and as a result, he is not looking as dominant in recent showings than he did at the start of the year.

His swinging strike rate (SwStr%) is a solid 14.6 percent for the year, but it has been a tale of two months for King: it was 16.8 percent in April, but has fallen to 13.1 percent in May. He’s actually only produced one whiff in his last two games, which would’ve seemed inconceivable a month ago, when hitters were flailing helplessly at his nasty sinker.

Has King regressed in a way that we should find concerning? Or is this just a blip? We don’t have a lot of data to make conclusions either way, but let’s try to look at recent trends with his velocity, pitch movement, and command/control.

For starters, he was never going to be a sub-1.00 ERA guy like he was in April. No one is over the course of a 162-game season, so some regression was expected. But watching him get hit around like this has to be worrisome for the Yanks. As you can see here, his velocity has had its peaks and valleys, especially in May. The 11th was a rough day velocity-wise for his four-seamer and sinker, but he escaped with two hits in a scoreless inning that day.

In all, though, his velocity has mostly been fine even as his numbers have fallen off.

The overall quality of his stuff has varied a little from outing to outing in May, as his horizontal and vertical movement profiles indicate. There were some swings between May 8, when he conceded a couple of runs, and May 11, plus some slight alterations in his last two games (May 24 and May 28):

But just as with his velocity, for the most part King’s movement profile hasn’t diverged too much in aggregate; his pitches haven’t suddenly stopped moving in wicked fashion in May.

That said, his command in May hasn’t been consistently good, which could help explain his struggles. Here is a pitch chart of his May 24th game against the Baltimore Orioles, when he allowed his second home run of the season:

He was all over the place that day, with more pitches outside of the zone (11) than in the zone (10). When he did find the plate, he delivered hittable pitches to opposing batters.

One of the reasons that can help us explain his recent lack of command is his release point. Baseball Savant describes King’s release point as “very consistent”, at an average of 5.4 feet from the ground. But his average vertical and horizontal release has looked a bit off recently:

Of course, we are talking about inches here, so the wild variations in the graphs aren’t really as drastic as they might seem, but there seems to b a bit of inconsistency as of late. Perhaps that inconsistency has led to a few more missed spots, and a few more runs,

We’ve seen some more notable missed spots with King’s sinker and four-seamer. As a pitcher with a high called strike rate due to using some “backdoor” sinkers, some of those misses are ending up middle-middle, and major league hitters are doing what major league hitters are paid to do.

In any case, King should be OK moving forward. Even over that ugly stretch since May 8, his 3.93 FIP and his 2.75 xFIP paint a much more favorable picture than his ERA, as does his 3/13 BB/K ratio in 11.1 frames. Since there haven’t been any huge swings in velocity (other than a few outings in which he throws his fastballs a tick slower than usual), spin rate, or pitch movement, King should see things come back to normal as he smooths out his command. His current run of form is concerning, but in the long run, the Yankees should still feel confident about King as a versatile, high-leverage reliever.