While the New York Yankees‘ starting rotation has experienced its share of ups and downs, particularly due to injuries, their bullpen has been among the best in baseball. The team currently boasts a 2.68 ERA, significantly ahead of the second-place Seattle Mariners with a 2.83 ERA.
Although some individual players have been inconsistent, the bullpen as a whole has been remarkably effective. The absence of Jonathan Loáisiga, Lou Trivino, and Scott Effross is certainly felt, but the promotion of Ian Hamilton and the return of Michael King following Tommy John surgery have considerably strengthened the unit.
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The Yankees are seeing the best of Michael King:
In fact, King has emerged as one of the best relief pitchers at the outset of the 2023 season. Over 20 innings, he has achieved a 1.35 ERA, 2.69 xFIP, 10.80 strikeouts per nine innings, an 86.4% left-on-base rate, and a career-high 50% ground ball rate. King has only walked 1.80 batters per nine innings and maintains a 0.0% HR/FB ratio.
Before his elbow injury in 2022, King was well on his way to making the All-Star game and establishing himself as one of the most formidable relief pitchers in baseball. He attained a 2.29 ERA across 51 innings, and his performance this year indicates not only a recovery but potentially even greater accuracy. Although his velocity has decreased from 96.5 mph to 94.5 mph, his pitch selection and location have been exceptional.
King ranks in the 99th percentile for hard-hit percentage allowed, 96th percentile for barrel rate, 87th percentile for whiff rate, and 83rd percentile for both strikeout and walk rates. Examining specific pitches, King has been utilizing his change-up and 4-seam fastball more frequently compared to his sweeping slider and sinker.
He throws his sinker 28.8% of the time, the most among his pitches, yielding a .091 batting average against with a 40.9% put-away rate. Furthermore, his sweeping slider generates a 37.5% whiff rate, with 16% more horizontal movement than the average pitcher.
Michael King’s return has offered the Bombers a reliable safety net in high-pressure situations. He is adept at entering games with runners on base, escaping unharmed, and serving as a primary option for closing games. Given Clay Holmes’ somewhat inconsistent start to the year, relying on King has become one of manager Aaron Boone’s simplest decisions.
Fortunately for the Yankees, King is only 27 years old, and they have three more years of service time before he becomes a free agent in 2026. He is proving to be one of the best in the game at his specific position.
Eventually, Loáisiga will return, and the Yankees will regain Scott Effross in 2024. However, it is essential to acknowledge Hamilton’s success after moving between teams in recent seasons. After achieving a 1.88 ERA in Triple-A with Minnesota’s affiliate team, he has recorded a 1.35 ERA across 20 innings this season for the Bombers. His 82.4% left-on-base rate and 60.5% ground ball rate are among the best on the entire roster.
Moreover, Hamilton is not only inducing ground balls but also striking out batters at a rate of 11.25 per nine innings. The Yankees’ overall bullpen ERA may be low, but it is directly related to the combined success of King and Hamilton.