Just last year before Michael King fractured his elbow in July, which has led to the New York Yankees playing exactly .500 baseball ever since, the right-hander was considered one of the best relievers in the sport. He built off of a solid 2021 and then posted a 2.29 ERA, 2.23 FIP and 1.00 WHIP with 66 strikeouts in 51 innings before the injury.
Some dubbed him the closer in waiting, especially when Clay Holmes' struggles took hold. As you can expect, there were high expectations for King heading into 2023 as his recovery from the elbow injury was ahead of schedule.
But he wasn't as dominant as 2022. His first appearance of the season featured a loss when he blew it against the San Francisco Giants in relief. He had a largely spotless April and May after that, but June really knocked him off a peg.
He blew four games that month, including two against the Red Sox. He then blew two against the Orioles and Angels in July. He single-handedly cost the Yankees six games in the span of five weeks. He still had the "stuff," but he was inexplicably falling short.
And then, just like that, he became a very good starting pitcher and is likely projected to be a full-timer in the rotation for 2024? Didn't the Yankees already try this? And how is it working this well after it initially failed so miserably? King struck out 13 against the Blue Jays in Wednesday night's loss, which was a careeer high.
Michael King's resurgence as a starter is bailing Yankees out of yet another mistake
Prior to 2023, the Yankees used King as a starter 10 times and the results were horrible. He couldn't escape the first inning unscathed. He was winless, going 0-5 with a 6.52 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.
And that was the first time the Yankees were bailed out. There was no recourse left for King other than to serve as a reliever, and he managed to carve out a very successful role for himself over the last couple of years even though the sample size probably only amounts to the workload for a full 162-game season.
Then, the Yankees needed rotation help. They made some bad decisions by keeping Luis Severino and trading for Frankie Montas. Carlos Rodón's injury put them behind the eight-ball and Nestor Cortes' shoulder issue was the final blow. In came King, seemingly a new man, transitioning to the rotation like it's where he's always belonged.
What went so horribly wrong during the first attempt at this that forced the Yankees to eventually create an irreplaceable bullpen asset, only to remove that asset and place it back into an area of the roster that was supposed to be the "best in MLB" heading into 2023?
Has it been the introduction of Austin Wells, who has caught his last four outings? Has it been Andy Petttitte, who joined the organization in the middle of this season as everything began to torpedo? Has it been Gerrit Cole's seemingly greater hands-on approach when the rest of the pitching staff needed more and more help?
King now owns a 1.78 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in seven starts (30.1 innings) this year, which now has him on track to snag a rotation spot next year and save the Yankees a ton of money. With Severino, Montas and Domingo Germán likely gone and King and Schmidt getting cemented into full-time roles, the Yankees will be able to get better production at a far more cost-effective rate (pending, of course, health shakeups).
If taking the plunge to move King to the rotation was a penny-pinching move, then the Yankees lucked out. If that works out in 2024, then it will be the third time King has bailed them out in some capacity, which goes to show this organization's still all over the place with their decision making.