The way baseball works, there are always developmental steps to be made, and impactful goals to be accomplished, whether you’re competing in a given season or not. That has certainly been true for the 2023 Yankees, and as they’ve played out the string, the work of Michael King in these past few weeks has been a high note.
This team entered the year with arguably the best rotation on paper in the sport. Gerrit Cole, Calos Rodón, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, and Frankie Montas were supposed to lead the Yankees to the promised land. Now, a week or so before year’s end, only Cole has done anything close to meeting his individual expectations. All the other four dealt with major injury woes, and none of them were as effective as they could be, whenever they were able to take the mound.
With that in mind, Aaron Boone and the front office moved King to the rotation to wrap up this final month of 2023. Part of that was by necessity, with the Yankees low on healthy starting arms, and part of that was due to a desire to see how King took to the role. He has blown through even the highest expectations.
The last time King took the mound, he had undoubtedly the best outing of his career and one of the better performances by a Yankees starter in 2023. The right-hander demolished the Blue Jays, allowing but a single run over seven innings, with a whopping 13 strikeouts. For the first time on the year, Boone allowed King to go over 100 pitches, 101 to be exact, as he has been gradually building up his arm for lengthier outings after he became a starter.
The sample size as a starter is still small, but the only way he’ll get a larger one to prove his worth as a starter is to get fully built up for that role. And the reasons for the Yankees to do that are many.
Some may argue that as good of a pitcher as he can be as a starter, he’d be better as a reliever, but that’s not really the point. The real question here is: how impactful King can be as a starter for the Yankees, and where would he be a more valuable piece?
If we are to discuss the possibility of King as a full-time starter in 2024, we first have to address a few things that play a role here. For starters, the Yankees have some tough decisions to make, and holes to plug. Luis Severino is a free agent, Frankie Montas is a free agent, and the situation around Domingo Germán is unclear at this time. Even if Nestor Cortes returns to form, there are still spots to be filled there.
There’s clearly room for King here. Next, we can go back at his minor league career, to understand that the right-hander has shown he can handle the workload before.
Coming up as a starter, King averaged over 150 innings between 2017 and 2018, with ‘18 being a particularly marvelous campaign, across three levels. Only after those two seasons, did King start to transition into a reliever role.
Furthermore, one can’t even really look at the hit the bullpen will take as a result of King’s transition as a negative factor here. If there is one thing the Yankees have been really successful at in recent seasons, it is building great bullpens. Clay Holmes has bounced back after a tough second half in 2022, Tommy Kahnle has been money since getting healthy, and you even have names like Ian Hamilton also flourishing.
At the end of the day, even if your bullpen takes a bit of a hit as any unit that loses Michael King will, it’s a calculated risk. The chance of getting a starter with the caliber of stuff he has is one worth taking. With an impending hole in the rotation, proof that King can handle a substantial workload, and King’s stellar performance down the stretch, the Yankees have every reason to stick with him in the rotation in 2024.