Yankees felt Michael King’s dominance ‘brewing’

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Over the past year, there have been hints, interspersed throughout 22 games, that Michael King might be something big for the Yankees.

The right-hander hopped between bullpen and rotation, filling various needs the Yankees had throughout the season while posting a solid 3.55 ERA.

But did anyone think he was going to be arguably the best assist in Major League Baseball in the first month of this season? The extent to which King has dominated opponents thus far may come as a surprise, but the success isn’t entirely out of left field.

“I feel like it was brewing last year when he showed lightning,” pitching coach Matt Blake said in a phone interview Friday as the Yankees’ game against the Rangers was washed out by rain. “It’s always been like that, you’ve seen the potential and it’s just about bringing it together in big moments on the field. He’s really been able to capture that so far.”

King has given up just one earned run spanning 17 2/3 innings this season while striking out 25 and winning just three. He was the Yankees’ most valuable arm as a multi-inning shutdown threat from the bullpen, with his importance transcending that of a typical assist.

Michael King was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2022.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

On Friday, FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) ranked King as the third most valuable pitcher in all of baseball. His 1.2 was behind just two starters: the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman (1.9) and the Giants’ Carlos Rodon (1.3).

The 26-year-old former starter, who posted a 0.7 fWAR last season, has a four-field arsenal (four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider and changeup) that he uses to fool opposing batsmen can. But his ability to hone those pitches and throw them all consistently for strikes — particularly the breaking ball, a slider/curveball hybrid he learned from Corey Kluber last season — has allowed him to become a force, independently whether he is facing a right-handed person or a left-handed person.

“It was huge,” Blake said. “Before, he had the really good two-seater that he could use to reach right-handers. He was always looking for that change of pace or something to throw on the other side of the plate. … Then suddenly that pitch really clicks for him and takes off and now it’s a way above average breaking ball that he can lean on for shots and chase and it really opens the other side of the plate. Now he can really blast across the board with his two-seam/four-seam/slider mix. It really keeps the boys on their toes.”

In his first three seasons in the major leagues, left-handers combined 34 to 133 (.256) with .838 OPS against King. He’s kept them 0-for-19 this season with one walk and 11 strikeouts.

But its sweeping slider didn’t just work against lefties. According to Baseball Savant, all hitters this season are hitting just .143 (2 to 14) against the field.

Michael King
Michael King
Getty Images

With an improved slider, a four-seam fastball that picked up speed, a two-seam fastball with wild movement, and a switch that created a touch of 75 percent, King has an array of weapons at his disposal in one certain night. And instead of trying to feel a game as a starter, he’s adopted an offensive mindset as a full-time reliever.

“He took it to another level this year where all these things that were kind of coming together have really started to solidify so he has a lot of different options for his game plans,” said Blake, who has watched King since he was one Rhode Island high school student who fielded for the Yankees’ Summer League scout teams.

Now King has become so valuable that the biggest difficulty for the Yankees is determining the best spots to use him. He’s made more than three outs in seven of his eight appearances, with the only one-inning outing coming on April 14, when he saved Aroldis Chapman from a situation full of bases and no-outs for his first career save.

The Yankees have been leaning on King most of the time, which has allowed other high-leverage assists to rest when they are narrowly ahead — a weapon like the one the Red Sox have found in former Yankees prospect Garrett Whitlock.

“It was really helpful and challenging at times because you’re like, ‘Well, when’s the right time to shoot him?’ ‘ Blake said. “You don’t want to give away his length when we have it, but he’s obviously really good in short bursts too. … The mentality of coming in and hitting the hitting zone and having the ability to swing and miss and get weak contact in those spots is tremendous.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/06/yankees-felt-michael-kings-dominance-brewing/ Yankees felt Michael King’s dominance ‘brewing’

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