One of the major stories to come out of the Yankees’ unexpectedly poor 2023 season is that the dearth of starting pitchers late in the year opened up an opportunity for Michael King to request another shot at a starting rotation gig.
And King has starred in the role — becoming one of the best pitchers on the staff.
The losses of Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino due to injury; and Frankie Montas having never made it back to the MLB roster (he is just now in late September making minor-league rehab starts); and the loss of Domingo German due to an alcoholic outburst — opened up openings in the Yankee starting staff. So much so they pulled Luke Weaver off the scrap heap and he’s starting for them now.
Jhony Brito had success as a starter early in the year, but there were also several extreme non-successes, so he was moved to the pen where he’s excelled as a 3+ inning reliever — essentially taking Michael King’s role.
1. King a Starter in Minors
Michael King’s name started to appear in Yankee Universe the winter of 2018, when people in the Yankee organization were quoted as saying how good he looked in the minors. He ripped through multiple levels in 2018 and finished 11-5 1.79 overall.
2. Elbow Stress Reaction Delays 2019
Then came a stress reaction in his elbow to start 2019 — the Yankees shut him down, and allowed him to pitch very late in the year. Then came COVID in 2020 — King got in 4 starts when the season resumed, going 1-2 7.76. In 2021, he made 6 starts, going 2-4 3.55, but then was moved to the pen.
King pitched well to start his starts, but would often melt in the 5th or 6th innings. King excelled as a multi-inning reliever.
3. Elbow Surgery Derails 2022
Michael King was pitching great for the Yanks through the first few months of 2022 — and was one of the big reasons for the club’s fantastic start. But he went down with a fractured elbow in July, for which he had to have surgery. He returned to kick off 2023 and has been brilliant again out of the pen, until asking for another chance in the starting rotation in late August, with the Yankees needing starters.
4. King Has Larger Pitch Arsenal Now
King is still just 28 years old. The 6’3 righty out of Rochester NY feels he is more ready to be a starter now, as he has expanded his pitch arsenal and can go through a lineup 3 times.
“I think it’s just the pitch arsenal,” said King after a strong start against Milwaukee on September 8. “I felt like all throughout the minor leagues I was a sinker pitcher and didn’t throw a 4-seam. I had a really bad slider that I was able to command and so it worked with minor league hitters, but as I kept moving up I learned it wasn’t good enough.”
“I always had an ok changeup,” King continued, “but I feel I’ve really developed the slider and changeup to be good swing-and-miss pitches — ‘out’ pitches — and then the difference between my sinker and 4-seam has continued to be more separate in terms of movement, and I’m seeing guys who are under the 4-seam and on top of the sinker. Having those 4 pitches I think is leading to the success I’m having now. Back then it was hard to go 3 times through with just the sinker.”
Michael King, Wicked Changeups. 🤢
8th and 9th Ks pic.twitter.com/SEBXX1OFh8
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 9, 2023
5. Using His Repertoire of Pitches
Having an improved arsenal and using that arsenal to effect are two different things, albeit hand-in-hand. King has been using his 2-seam sinker to effect with the 4-seam fastball and off-speed pitches.
After King pitched a brilliant game against Toronto on Sept 20, striking 13 in 7 innings, he said: “It was actually my four-seam that set that (2-seamer) up a lot. And that was the main point that Gerrit (Cole) was talking about. Using the four seam early to get sinkers to get underneath the barrel. And then it was command of the slider away that allowed me to back-door it away to righties or front-it to lefties. So I think it was really the execution of my 3 other pitches that allowed me to have either ugly swings or takes on the sinker.”
Michael King's 2 1st Inning Ks. pic.twitter.com/YaVUgPp6l8
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 29, 2023
6. Help from His Friends
King has been getting help in establishing a game plan as a starter from Yankee pitchers such as Gerrit Cole; the catchers Austin Wells, Kyle Higashioka, Jose Trevino, and Ben Rortvedt; and the pitching coaches Matt Blake and Andy Pettitte.
After his 13-strikeout game against Toronto, he had this to say: “I think we had a great game plan, Wells and I. We had constant communication with everybody. Gerrit was in there talking about sequences. Obviously Blake and Wells. Before the game yesterday I was talking to Pettitte a lot. So I think we had a pretty good game plan; it was up to me to execute, and I feel like I stayed in my lanes pretty well.”
I could watch Gerrit Cole talk pitching/spin all day. pic.twitter.com/ZOTLGDbdiA
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 20, 2023
7. Difference Between Being a Reliever and a Starter
The difference between being a reliever and a starter is Huge, says King: “I think my homework before was finding areas where I could get swings and misses, every time. I never was looking for soft contact. I never was looking to get quick outs.”
“Now I have to go deeper into games,” he continued. “So there are spots where I can pick and choose, where I know an area of soft contact, and I’d rather get a 1st-pitch out, or if I’m behind in the count I’d rather get the weak contact instead of a take and make it a 6- or 7-pitch at bat. So it’s been a learning curve for me, but I’ll continue to learn and continue to try and do that.”
King Ks 👑 pic.twitter.com/SNroKVatvZ
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) August 29, 2023
8. What His Manager Boone Thinks
“He’s got a great disposition about him, and kind of has that starter look and way about him,” said manager Aaron Boone about King after his first start of the season on August 29th against Detroit. “And he’s done it his whole life. It’s just a matter of does it translate over the long haul. He’s getting more and more opportunities, and you have to like what you’re seeing.”
When King beat Houston, Boone added this: ““He had fastball command of both sides of the plate. I thought his stuff was really good tonite too. He’s carrying his stuff with him. The sinker and the four-seamer are both really good weapons for him to go along with his slider/changeup. Another strong outing against a good offense.”
Michael King with a NASTY offspeed pitch to cap off his 5th inning of work 🔥
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 9, 2023
9. Kings Starts at End of 2023
- In King’s first start of 2023, he pitched 2.2 innings allowing 0 ER vs Washington, NY lost 6-5.
- In his 2nd start, he pitched 4 shutout innings vs Detroit. as NY won 4-2.
- In his 3rd start, he pitched 5 innings of 1-run ball against Houston, as NY won 6-1.
- In his 4th start, he pitched 5 innings allowing 1 earned run vs Milwaukee, but NY lost 9-2.
- In his 5th start, he pitched 4.1 innings of 1-run ball vs Boston, but NY lost 5-0.
- In his 6th start, he pitched 7 innings of 1-run ball vs Toronto, but NY lost 6-1.