Michael King suffered a season-ending elbow fracture on Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. The injury is devastating for one of the breakout players of this successful 2022 Yankees season. King had worked to turn himself into one of the game’s premier relief arms, and the impact of his loss on the team cannot be overstated.
Much like the starting rotation and lineup, the Yankees’ pen has been hitting on all cylinders this year, and alongside Clay Holmes, King may be the most responsible name for that performance, propelling the unit even as some bigger names have struggled. Scanning through the stats of the pitching staff, the two worst performers were supposed to be staples of the Yankees’ pen. Jonathan Loáisiga and Aroldis Chapman have the two highest ERA’s among active pitchers on the team.
Loaísiga entered the year hoping to follow up on a 2021 campaign in which he was the relief ace of this squad, with a brilliant 2.17 ERA over 70.2 innings pitched. Chapman had already shown signs of decline, but he was still an All-Star in 2021. Right now, any Yankees fan finds himself sweating nervously any time either of them comes to the mound, and both have pitched their way out of high-leverage situations.
This bullpen has still succeeded, in part because of the complementary efforts of the likes of Wandy Peralta, Lucas Luetge, and Ron Marinaccio, among others. But the loss of King, combined with the shaky performance from the big names of Loaisiga and Chapman, stresses the unit as a whole.
The Yankees should at least be able to navigate King’s absence in the regular season without rocking the boat too much. They have a considerable lead in the standings, and some depth to lean on. Clarke Schmidt will be expected to fill some of King’s innings, and perhaps Domingo Germán could provide bullpen help at some point. But at this point in time, you’d be remiss not to look ahead to the postseason, and when it inevitably arrives, this ‘pen will probably need some help.
Neither Loaísiga nor Chapman are showing many signs of regaining form, and if the postseason started today, you’d be worried about the bullpen bridging the gap from the starter to Clay Holmes.
There’s understandably been a lot of talk about adding to the lineup, with the Juan Soto revelation, and the availability of bats like Andrew Benintendi and Ian Happ. There’s of course plenty of clamoring for a rotation addition, given Luis Severino’s injury, Germán discouraging performance, and Jameson Taillon’s recent struggles.
While no one could dispute the impact of additions to the rotation and lineup, the King injury now adds an element of concern out in the bullpen as well. As things stand now, it’s hard to say the Yankees have more than one premier reliever (Holmes) that Aaron Boone can feel 100-percent confident in when October rolls around.
The likes of Luetge and Peralta are having strong seasons, following up breakout 2021 campaigns. But it’d be prudent for the front office to add some experience to complement those two (old friend David Robertson is just one of several names available). The Yankees should not want to enter the playoffs with a bullpen constructed of Holmes at the back, but without any other clear-cut elite options to go to. Doing so would require Luetge and Peralta to maintain every bit of their current form, or for Loaísiga and Chapman to suddenly return to their former selves. Both sides of that coin are far from surefire bets.
Adding bullpen help became more of a requirement than a luxury with this unfortunate development. The Yankees now have the unpleasant dilemma of possibly needing to patch a hole at every level of their roster.