Michael King, What Happened?
The Yankees are off to their best start since 1998, and a lot of this comes after philosophical changes took place following the Wild Card loss last year. The biggest contributor for the Yankees I believe has been their pitching, it’s been stellar from top to bottom. Among those in the “Gas Station” for the Yankees is Michael King, who has been arguably their best reliever all year next to Clay Holmes.
How does King’s era go from 3.55 in 2021, to 1.59 so far this season? The most obvious change is the percentage in which he’s throwing each pitch: he’s mixing it up much more this year than and prior year.
From this graph, we can gather King has thrown his sinker much less, and his fastball much more. And why wouldn’t he be throwing his fastball more? He’s averaging 95.8 miles per hour on it versus 93.7 miles per hour in 2020. Another interesting note is his slider rate being down so much this year, while his curveball rate steadily increases. The reason for this? His slider is completely different from prior years. When the Yankees signed veteran Corey Kluber to a one year deal last year, it was for more than just pitching. It was to mentor the young arms in the Yankees system such as King, and no one payed more attention than him.
“I’ve gone through six different slider grips and thrown it since I was in college. It’s never been a good pitch for me until Kluber.”King said in a postgame interview with MLB’s Bryan Hoch.
King’s Breaking Ball Among the Best
Here are some examples of King’s refined pitch being nasty in 2022:
Look familiar at all?
From this we can see the influence Kluber had on King when it came to throwing his off-speed pitch. It’s evident King had the movement in his off-speed pitches, but couldn’t often locate them. The new slider that features more of a sweeping motion has created one of the most difficult pitches to hit in the league. Looking at King’s baseball savant, we can see just how difficult that pitch has been to hit so far this year:
Baseball savant only recorded one slider so far this year for King, so they’re considering his new pitch to be a curveball. He throws it nearly a quarter of the time, and from the chart we can see how little hitters record a base hit off of it. His entire baseball savant can be looked at here; he is an analytical department’s dream when it comes to advanced stats. Our Founder Trey Daubert was the first to see the brilliance in King last year. He saw this coming way before any of us did:
Who Else Has Contributed to King’s Success?
The staff entirely got better this year for the Yankees. Most of the credit should go to pitching coach Matt Blake. Before Blake, there was Larry Rothschild. He was notorious for ruining pitchers in New York. Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Nathan Eovaldi are among the pitchers the Yankees ruined, while the media would just say “they can’t pitch in New York”. Blake has turned the Yankees relievers into ground ball pitchers, which seems like the plan behind a majorly upgraded infield defense. When the Yankees got Blake from the Cleveland Farm System, I knew the Yankees pitching would no longer implode every time it mattered (Except for you, Gerrit Cole). Seeing how he developed guys such as Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Triston Mckenzie, and Zach Plesac, it was a major upgrade.
Along with Matt Blake, the biggest contributors to not only King but the entire pitching staff has been the trade that got rid of Gary Sanchez. The staff looks more confident than ever throwing to Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino. The Yankees gave up on finding a hitting catcher, realizing good defensive catchers who can also hit just don’t exist. Instead, they decided to get an above average framer in Jose Trevino. They also still have Ben Rortvedt, who began a rehab stint this week, and is also believed to be a great defensive catcher as well.
Everything Going Right Early On for King, Yankees
If you’re Michael King, you’re in the best of both worlds right now. Aside from being one of the most dominant relievers so far, you’re teams sitting pretty in first place after a month of games. I won’t talk about how he was robbed of reliever of the month for Blue Jays’ Jordan Romano, but lets just compare April stats while we’re here:
King: 14.2 IP, 0.61 era, 0.70 FIP (FIP Description), & a 1.1 fWar(Fangraphs calculations of Wins Above Replacement)
Romano: 12.1 IP, 1.46 era, 2.36 FIP, 0.4 fWar. It’s a minuscule reliever of the month award, but King was overwhelmingly better than Romano. For King and the Yankees moving forward, it will be interesting to see how they manage King in high-leverage situations, or how they develop him into another role if they decide to, but for now, watching Michael King is a treat, and his dominance is here to stay.