ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 27: Michael King #73 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 27, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The Yankees have a great starting rotation. With a team ERA of 2.75, they rank third in the majors, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. But, not to sound the alarm, that number is likely to go up after a closer look into their rotation.
The Yankees have been getting exceptionally lucky with getting out of trouble.
Currently, they have the second highest left on-base percentage, successfully avoiding 82.3% of runners on base to score. This is flirting with danger.
While the Yankees have a new “ace” in Nestor Cortes, and a familiar face in Gerrit Cole, it is the rest of the rotation that provides for some questions about their durability and longevity. Between Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Luis Severino, only Severino has proven consistency. Of these 3 starters, Severino is the only one to have a season with an ERA above 3.5–and it was 6 years ago. Meanwhile, both Taillon and Montgomery have consistently hovered near a 4 and 5 ERA, with Taillon posting a 4.30 ERA just last year.
Of course, ERA is not the dispositive factor when deciphering starting pitching, yet this should give fans a bit of pause.
Enter: Michael King
Moving a dominant reliever to the starting rotation is not a new concept. Between Garrett Whitlock of the Boston Red Sox, and Michael Kopech of the Chicago White Sox, teams across the league are proving that extending your most lethal pitchers to 6 innings can be vital for your rotation.
King has become must watch television. Currently, he possesses a 1.42 ERA, with a .84 WHIP. He is in the 99th percentile at whiff rate, and the 98th percentile with strikeout rate.
Seemingly no hitter stands a chance against him, as he is striking batters out 40% of the time. And, if they think taking a few pitches would provide them better chances, they would be wrong. King is only walking 5% of batters faced. Essentially, a hitter’s fate is sealed as soon as they step in the box. They’re not getting on base.
Manager Aaron Boone has been utilizing King in a longer reliever role, possibly hinting that maybe he will become a starter in the future. King’s longest outings have allowed him to go 3 innings. He has thrown as many as 45 pitches in a relief appearance. What is even more indicative of his durability is that Boone treats him like a pseudo starter, pitching him at most every 3 games. So, stretching out his pitches and making him go every say, fifth day, isn’t that far of a stretch.
But I also understand the skeptics.
Why move King from a reliable position when the starters have been so good?
It is a fair point. King seems to be the new Chad Green, a manager’s favorite go to guy to put out the flames. But it’s what King has been able to do that could supply the rotation with some assistance. King relies heavily on his sinker, inducing ground balls 42% of the time. So, essentially, if a hitter can muster up some contact against King, it is likely a weak grounder that poses no threat to the Yankee defense.
Further, King refuses to allow fly balls, currently yielding a measly 28% fly ball percentage. Meanwhile, Yankee starters are allowing fly balls nearly 40% of the time. This can create concerns as we approach the summer months and continue to play in the notoriously hitter friendly ballpark.
Now I am not saying to delegate any one Yankee starter to the bullpen just yet. With Monty, Taillon, and Severino performing well there is no reason to. I would just advocate that as we approach these summer months, and hitters start to find their groove from the abbreviated spring, the Yankee starters may begin to find their luck changing. And, unlike many other teams, the Yankees have a solution from within.
So, while the trade deadline comes and every team is vying for another starter, Boone and Cashman can smirk, knowing they have a solid 3 starter just waiting for them in the bullpen.