Did Yankees sell fool’s gold to Padres with Michael King in Juan Soto trade?

Padres starter Michael King is struggling right now.
May 15, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael King (34) walks off the mound.
May 15, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael King (34) walks off the mound. / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

After the Padres traded Juan Soto to the Yankees six months ago, GM AJ Preller noted that they had wanted to address a number of holes in the organization in one swing. As part of the deal, they received righty Michael King in order to shore up their rotation depth.

King was transitioned from the bullpen to the Yankees rotation in late August of 2023. He pitched well in nine starts, posting a 2.23 ERA with 51 strikeouts and just nine walks in 40.1 innings. Prior to that, he'd functioned as a lights-out high-leverage reliever for the previous season and a half.

King has operated almost exclusively out of the Padres rotation this year and the results haven't been nearly as good as they were in New York. After his most recent blow-up against the laughably bad Rockies' offense, his ERA sits at a discouraging 4.31, and his 4.94 FIP doesn't inspire much confidence.

Did the Yankees pull the wool over the Padres' eyes with Michael King?

Fortunately for Padres fans, it might not be as bad as it looks. King's performance in 2023 was legit, and the underlying data all suggest that the quality of those 40 innings is repeatable.

In 2024, King is getting a bit unlucky with home runs. He's allowing a 19% HR/FB ratio, which is the second-highest figure in the majors among qualified pitchers. That number should come back to earth a bit, hopefully sooner than later.

He's walking a few too many guys, but he still has an above-average strikeout rate and one of the best changeups in baseball.

Part of his problem is that his four-seam fastball, which was a great pitch in 2023, has gotten crushed this year. Last year, King relied primarily on his sinker and his sweeper, throwing them a combined 62.8% of the time. He's throwing those two pitches just 44% of the time right now, while his four-seam and changeup usage rates are way up.

If that change was a conscious decision made by King and the Padres pitching staff, it might be time to rethink this approach. He's taken what worked well for him last year and essentially done a 180 with his arsenal.

King is in a tough spot, coming into San Diego as one of the guys acquired in the Soto trade. Those are massive shoes to fill, and it's likely that he's never the kind of player that makes you forget the Padres traded one of their superstars.

He can still be a solid pitcher for the Padres though. It's possible that he's best suited for a role in the bullpen but there's still time to try to fix the issues we've seen and get back on track.