Saturday, May 7, 2022

The King of the World...


Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo and Michael King / Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, New York Post

Now pitching, Number 34, Michael King…

It is easy to point to Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo as Team MVPs after twenty-five games. Yet, the Yankees would not be 18-7 and sitting atop the AL East without the huge contributions of Michael McRae King.

Michael King / Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta, USA TODAY Sports

The case can be made that he has been the Yankees’ most valuable pitcher (starter or reliever). As confidence in closer Aroldis Chapman has started to decline in recent seasons, King’s ability to go multiple innings with his vast array of pitches, shutting down powerful bats, has been tremendous. King, who turns twenty-seven later this month, has been dominant (ya think?). In 17 2/3 innings, he has struck out 39.7% of the batters he has faced, while walking only 4.8%. He is 2-0, with one save, and 0.51 ERA. His fWAR of 1.2 (according to FanGraphs) is the highest among relievers and tied for third among all pitchers with Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. They trail only Toronto’s Kevin Gausman (1.9) and San Francisco’s Carlos Rodon (1.3).

Armed with four pitches (four-seam and two-seam fastballs, slider and change-up), King keeps batters flustered as they fail repeatedly. There has been much talk about his mastery of the breaking ball thanks to last year’s tutelage by former Yank Corey Kluber. It is unfair to give full credit to Kluber. I am sure that the Klubot has offered plenty of advice to other pitchers over the years, but credit to the student for taking the feedback and implementing the necessary changes to make the pitch above average in his arsenal which obviously enhances his other pitches.

I remember when Chad Green was a starter, and I felt that he would be more effective as a reliever. It played out to perfection as Green was an elite reliever for a few years although he has slipped in recent seasons. King is the reliever that I would love to see become a starter. Maybe not this year. I loved the 2009 dominance of Phil Hughes as a reliever until he later moved back into the starting rotation in subsequent seasons. King is the 2022 version of the elite reliever for a championship team. Hopefully, if any of the starters miss time, the first call for replacement will be Clarke Schmidt and not King. But for next year and beyond, Michael King should be in the starting rotation with his deadly weaponry.

King was primarily a starter in the minor leagues with fifty-nine starts in eighty games pitched. If Jameson Taillon is not re-signed this coming off-season (he should be), King needs to be the arm that is slotted as his replacement. I love Nasty Nestor Cortes, Jr, but I would prefer him as the long reliever and spot starter with King in the rotation. Not this year…I would not want to disrupt a good thing…but as a future thought.

King was born in Rochester, New York on May 25, 1995. He went to high school in Rhode Island and pitched collegiately for Boston College. He was taken in the 12th round (353rd selection) of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins. The Yankees acquired King from the Marlins after the 2017 season, along with international bonus money, for starting pitcher Caleb Smith and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Cooper. I have been down on GM Brian Cashman in recent years, but this rates as one of his best trades, regardless of the spotty success Smith and Cooper have had at the Major League level. It is why I do not blink an eye if Cashman trades a veteran for a young prospect (like he did this past Spring when first baseman Luke Voit, a man without a position, was shipped to San Diego for pitcher Justin Lange or when he sent 4A outfielder Jake Cave to Minnesota a few years ago for RHP Luis Gil). Give these types of moves the necessary time to marinate.

King’s mission is simple. Help bring a World Championship back to the Bronx. There is no doubt he is doing his part. It is up to the other twenty-three men on the roster (purposely excluding Judge and Rizzo for their stellar play) to match King’s level of play.

Tim Locastro has been a blessing. When the Yankees acquired Locastro on July 1st last summer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the reason was simple. Speed. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL less than three weeks later and his 2021 season was ended. He was waived on November 5th and claimed by the Boston Red Sox. Fortunately, he was non-tendered by the Red Sox after Thanksgiving, and he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in March after the lockout had ended.

Locastro beat out Ender Inciarte to make the team out of Spring Training and has been an invaluable weapon in reserve. As they say, speed plays. I must admit that I had my doubts. The anterior cruciate ligament injury is serious, and I had concerns it would rob Locastro of his elite speed. Thankfully, Locastro has not slowed down and he is helping to have influence for this year’s club when his name is called upon.

Blue Jays C Tyler Heineman and Tim Locastro (scoring) / Photo Credit: Christopher Katsarov, The Canadien Press via AP

Brian Cashman is smarter than us. Okay, to be fair, I probably have not changed my opinion that it is time for change in the Yankees organization. We cannot change the owner, but general managers have shelf life and Cashman has had a good run. His last championship was in 2009 and he has had his share of clunker moves. The Yankees have made significant strides by upgrading coaching throughout the organization (albeit maybe not at the managerial level). At some point, the Steinbrenner Family faces the decision of whether they can improve the general manager’s seat. With his contract expiring at season’s end, the time could be near. Of course, a World Series championship this Fall would bring the inevitable extension. But I digress. On to the point…

Brian Cashman makes his decisions with the longer-term in view. This past off-season saw the Yankees pass on the elite shortstops, the team’s most pressing need. We now know how well Isiah Kiner-Falefa has fit into the Yankees lineup and has proven to be a better fit than any of the big three elite free agents. I wanted Carlos Correa and yet he has gotten off to a slower start than IKF. He suffered a hand injury earlier this week that was first thought to be broken but has received better news within the past day. Once Correa was off the board, I wanted DJ LeMahieu’s former Colorado teammate, Trevor Story. I was disappointed when he signed with Boston. In retrospect, Story has been a big reason the Red Sox (10-17) currently languish in last place in the AL East, BEHIND the annual cellar-dwelling Baltimore Orioles.

Trevor Story / Photo Credit: Barry Chin, Boston Globe Staff

Story is batting .212/.292/.294 with .270 wOBA and 73 wRC+. He does not have any home runs and only ten RBIs. The other night, when he struck out four times, he immediately secluded himself in the batting cage with a couple of teammates to avoid the press. He stayed in the batting cage until after the clubhouse closed to the media. Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe said it best. “Trevor Story not making himself available to media after 4-Ks and getting booed at Fenway is a bad sign. Fans want new players to succeed. But ducking questions never cuts it here. He’s a veteran. He knows the drill. That’s a ducking move. He can take a few questions, then go off and hit all night.”

Story’s behavior would not play in New York either. Credit to guys like Giancarlo Stanton, who have taken more than their fair share of heat over the years, they are always ready and available to field questions after games. I am sure Story’s bat will come around but suffice it to say that I am glad Brian Cashman was right and I was wrong. Credit where credit is due.

Brian Cashman / Photo Credit: Adam Hunger, Getty Images

No Yankees baseball for the third day in a row. Today’s game, like yesterday, has been postponed due to rain. Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers was rescheduled for tomorrow with a single-admission double-header. Today’s game against the old buddies of Joey Gallo, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino has been moved to Monday with 1:05 pm Eastern start time. Hopefully, the time off will not slow down the Yankees. I never get too excited about winning streaks because the Yankees have a habit of following up with a losing streak. Maybe the added rest days will help re-energize the team for another extended winning streak. The downside of the days off is that Aroldis Chapman is going to be horrendous in his next appearance since he never does well with too much time off.

Soggy Yankee Stadium / Photo Credit: AP

Here's hoping for better New York weather tomorrow…

As always, Go Yankees!