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Michael King should take on the opener role early in the season

The breakout Yankees reliever has a chance to be dominant again this season.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

I am proud to proclaim myself as the president of the Michael King Fan Club. In my humble opinion, he was one of the most dominant relievers in the game last year when he was on the mound. He attacks hitters with a four-pitch mix — three of those being plus offerings. His seam-shifted wake profile makes for an extremely uncomfortable at-bat, and his ability to command the glove side corner with his running sinker is matched by few pitchers in the league.

This profile is that of a starting pitcher, not a one- or two-inning reliever. For that reason, I am here to argue in favor of him taking over as an opener and building himself up back to that multi-inning relief role while Frankie Montas is temporarily on the shelf.

Typically, you’ll see a dominant reliever with one or two plus pitches, and maybe a third offering that’s flashed every now and then. King’s bullpenmate, Clay Holmes, is a perfect example of this. He spams his sinker over and over until hitters prove they are worthy of seeing a second pitch. Edwin Díaz, Josh Hader, and Emmanuel Clase are a few more examples of this strategy at work in others. It’s not clear if King will ascend to that level of stardom, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that his skills are right behind that class of relievers. But what makes him unique from the rest is that oh-so-important pitch mix.

As a starter through his minor-league career, King always had a multi-pitch offering, though he didn’t have the dominant stuff seen in 2022. That development is more of a revelation from the last two seasons, especially after his time shadowing Corey Kluber while he was in the Bronx. In fact, his repertoire is very reminiscent of the former ace. The glove-side sinker and demon sweeper are patented Kluber. King’s changeup is better than that of Kluber’s, but the two-time Cy Young Award winner has a cutter as well that he uses to set up his other pitches. I’m not exactly saying that King is bound for Cy Young success, rather; the point is one of his best comps is a starter with a multi-pitch repertoire.

King’s elbow troubles make the situation of him increasing his stamina back up to a starter’s workload a little difficult, which is why I think the role of the opener is perfectly suited for him. He can work his way back up to the fireman role of shutting a team down for multiple innings every few days. The Yankees are in a position where they aren’t in desperate need of King taking on any one role. They’re set with middle and late innings with a combination of Jonathan Loáisiga, Lou Trivino, the aforementioned Holmes, the newly-signed Tommy Kahnle, and multiple other viable medium- to high-leverage options. Then, they have two potential long men/fifth starters in Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt.

Aaron Boone has the freedom to use King where he is most advantageous to the team. As long as Montas is out, that could very well be opening for 25-40 pitches as his stamina builds back up. Germán and Schmidt could both plug in to bulk roles depending on who the Yankees think is the best matchup for the given opponent. While Germán and Schmidt have proven that they can make quality spot starts, or even enter the rotation, it’s hard to argue that either is as talented of a pitcher as King. What two long relievers can do, King can do it better.

Below is a table of some things that King can do better.

Michael King and His Competition

Pitcher IP K% GB% ERA FIP
Pitcher IP K% GB% ERA FIP
Michael King 51.0 33.2 47.0 2.3 2.2
Clarke Schmidt 57.2 23.7 42.1 3.1 3.6
Domingo Germán 72.1 19.5 39.8 3.6 4.4

Without even getting deep into the pitch qualities, it’s obvious that King had better results than the other two options to start games for the Yankees. He even competed with Schmidt in terms of total innings, excluding the playoffs. Assuming the standard 20-30 innings of pitches increased that we see around the league nowadays, Schmidt is likely heading for an increase as long as he stays with the big league club all year. With King coming off injury, the two could be a nice tandem in the beginning of the year while Germán serves as a spot guy if others need extended rest.

The path is there for King to take this role early in the season if his recovery continues to go smoothly. It’ll be important to give King the reins right away this year if that health is there. He will prove to be a weapon as the season progresses, especially if the team does what it should and makes a deep playoff run. It may not be the most likely scenario, but it has to be in the realm of possibilities for Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman.