Baby Bomber Pitchers: Michael King
This is the second in a series on high level minor league (AA/AAA) Yankee pitchers who are potential candidates for a call up when the eventual injury or injuries result in the big league team needing an extra arm.
It’s been reported that Michael King is in contention for the fifth starter spot with James Paxton recovering from back surgery and Domingo German serving his suspension. My gut is that Jordan Montgomery should be the favorite to land the spot given his major league experience. In any case, King is an exciting prospect.
King was acquired from the Marlins in November 2017 in a trade for Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper. He had terrific control in the lower minors (1.27 walks per 9 in low A in 2017) which I love but only 6.40 strikeouts per 9 that year (which is not so great). His two seam fastball did result in a 55.7% ground ball rate which is nice. Very few ground balls go for home runs.
The Yankees promoted Michael King aggressively in 2018 and he spent 40.3 innings at high A (10 strikeouts per 9, 2.23 walks per 9), 82 innings at AA (8.34 strikeouts per 9, 1.43 walks per 9) and 39 innings at AAA (7.15 strikeouts per 9, 1.38 walks per 9). Clearly, the Yankees have a bigger Wheaties budget than the cash strapped Marlins (hence, the higher strikeout rates). King’s ground ball rate was 59.8%, 45.2% and 53.8% at each of the three levels. The minor league stats geeks (including yours truly) fell in love and eagerly awaited his arrival in the Bronx in 2019.
Alas, it was not to be. Last year, King developed a stress fracture in his elbow in spring training. He had suffered the same injury in college. King only pitched 38 innings in 2020. He did pitch two innings in the Bronx, but that was a far cry from what I had hoped to see last year.
Michael King should be good to go in spring training. There’s a lot to like:
Lots of ground balls.
Near elite control.
Good strikeouts for a sinkerballer (sinkerball pitchers tend to pitch to contact and have fewer strikeouts).
Low home run rate of .60 per 9 innings in 386 innings of minor league work. As a comparison (King’s number came in the minor leagues, of course) but the lowest rate among qualified starters in the majors in 2019 was .69 (Charlie Morton).
While it’s not exciting, if a pitcher can limit home runs and walks and strike out a few batters, he can be a very effective pitcher. Everyone will say that King is a #3/#4 pitcher but if he can strike out 6 or 7 batters per 9 and limit home runs as well as he has, his performance could be more along the lines of a #2 starter. People forget that those big four-seam fastball strikeout pitchers tend to allow a decent number of home runs.
Whether Michael King wins the 5th starter spot or starts the season in AAA, he’s an incredible asset to have as an insurance policy in case any of members of the rotation need to miss one or more starts.
Acquiring Michael King was a terrific trade by Brian Cashman.