Over the past few seasons, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman were considered the Yankees’ top bullpen arms, but that idea is quickly changing with the emergence of one young relief pitcher.
26-year-old Michael King has dominated to start the 2022 season, currently featuring a 0.51 ERA over 7.2 innings. His strikeouts per nine rate have elevated from 8.81 in 2021 to 12.74 this year. In addition, he hosts a 42.9% ground-ball rate and 84.6% left on base rate.
King showed flashes of quality last season, earning a 3.55 ERA over 63.1 innings. His pitch repertoire was a bit different, using a cutter 15.5% of the time, but he has completely taken his cutter out of the equation and thrown his fastball at 24.2%, up nearly 16% this year.
“I feel like it was brewing last year, where he showed flashes,” pitching coach Matt Blake said Friday, via the NY Post. “It was always, you’ve seen the potential and it’s just a matter of putting it together on the field in big moments. He’s really been able to capture that so far.”
King has experienced a decrease in his sinker usage, hovering around 40%, whereas he reached 50% in all of his first three seasons. However, his slider is being used 25.4% of the time. He’s putting a lot more reliance on his fastball and slider.
“It’s been huge,” Blake said. “Before, he had the really good two-seamer that he could get in on righties. He was always looking for that change-of-pace pitch or something that he could throw to the other side of the plate. … Then all of a sudden, this pitch really clicks for him and it takes off and now it’s a well above-average breaking ball that he can lean on for strikes and chase and it really opens up the other side of the plate. Now he can really crisscross the plate with his two-seams/four-seams/slider mix. It really keeps guys on edge.”
One of the more interesting metrics that has seen a rather sizable increase is his SwStr% (Percentage of strikes our swung at and missed). That number has elevated to 16%, a 5.3% increase from last year. That is right in line with Blake’s review, showcasing more chase from batters. His called strike percent is up another 7%, and King’s “called plus swinging strike percentage” is up to 40.2%. Overall, King is just throwing more strikes with better quality pitches, which is exactly what the Yankees were hoping for.
In fact, over the past six games, King hasn’t allowed a single run. The only run he allowed this year was against Toronto on April 11. King hasn’t allowed a hit in 4.2 innings over two games of work. There’s a legitimate reason to believe that King could end up becoming an All-Sar this year, but the Yankee should keep him in a relief role instead of bumping him to the starting rotation.