The Yankees are consistently lauded as a team with an elite bullpen. Their depth is excellent, and the guys at the top of the bullpen are some of the best in Major League Baseball. One of the reasons for that is they employ Michael King.
In 2022, King was one of the most reliable pieces in the bullpen. The right-handed hurler could be put in any position, and it felt like a guarantee he would find a way out of it. Unfortunately, he sustained an injury to his arm in a game against the Baltimore Orioles that didn't require him to get Tommy John surgery, but it did leave him out for an extended period of time and, ultimately, ended his season.
2022 Statistics: 34 games played, 51.0 IP, 2.29 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 33.2 K%, 8.0 BB%, 1.7 fWAR
2023 ZiPS Projections: 35 games played, 48.7 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 33.2 K%, 8.9 BB%, 0.3 fWAR
Luckily, he’s back in spring training doing what he was last year: making batters look silly in the batter’s box. He has pitched 3.0 innings so far, two of them being perfect, and hasn’t allowed a run or a hit and only one walk. He also leads all pitchers in WHIP.
King’s arsenal is a lethal combination of high-speed and incredible movement, which allows him to generate plenty of fun swings and misses that the fans can enjoy. His primary pitch, the sinker, sits at an average of over 95 MPH, and he throws it in combination with his sweeping slider mostly toward right-handed hitters. His movement on both pitches allows his sinker to work in toward the hitter’s hands and the slider to slide far away to the outside.
Below is a video clip from last season where King uses two sliders to generate two big outs in a 10th-inning jam:
King’s slider last season had a whiff percentage of 41.2, which was the second highest out of any pitch in his arsenal only behind his changeup, which he threw much less according to Statcast (only 74 times). His fastball sat in the 84th percentile for velocity and 86th for spin, which continues the impressiveness of his diverse pitching repertoire.
Health will be the biggest thing for King heading into 2023. Everyone knows the kind of work he can do on the mound, and the coaching staff knows he will inevitably be important if the Yankees want to win a World Series. But the first step is making sure he has a healthy season. The production will come just as it did last season, but it can’t if he’s sidelined for large periods of time due to nagging injuries or anything else that may hinder his performance.
He may also get the opportunity to be an opener more often than not if Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt can’t seem to find their footing. He has pitched in that role before and done well, and with Carlos Rodón and Frankie Montas out for the interim the team is going to need all the help they can get.
King is a great pitcher to have not just because he can make batters look silly and it’s very amusing from an outside perspective, but because he can provide value to the Yankees in many different ways. In 2023, he’s going to need to continue to do that, whether it be as a late-game bullpen pitcher or an opener in some games across the 162-game schedule.