Padres' Starter Losing Velocity, Leading to Alarming Results

Speed isn't everything, but losing nearly 2 mph on your fastball can make a big difference.
Apr 12, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (37)
Apr 12, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (37) / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

From a distance, it isn't hard to see what the San Diego Padres were thinking when they asked for pitcher Michael King as the centerpiece of their return in the Juan Soto trade with the New York Yankees in December.

King, 28, began last season as a middle relief pitcher for the Yankees. He performed well — a 3.08 ERA in 40 games, with 76 strikeouts in 64.1 innings — and earned a promotion to the starting rotation when injuries opened a vacancy.

King's performance a starter suggested he was better suited for the role all along. In his final nine games of the season with the Yankees, all as a starter, King's WHIP, ERA, and strikeout rates all improved. Entering 2024, the Padres were confident installing King as their number-3 starter behind Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.

A difficult April has put that decision in perspective. More than anything, it's revealed how much King relied on speed to enhance his four-seamer and sinker — two pitches that have looked especially vulnerable early in the season. Entering Saturday's start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, King has a 2-3 record, 5.00 ERA, and an unsightly 1.472 WHIP.

The difference? As a starter in Sept. 2023, King's four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph. His sinker averaged 94.8. Neither was his best pitch, but at least he was able to keep opposing hitters in the ballpark. He allowed only one home run on either pitch over the final month of last season.

In the first month of 2024, King's four-seamer has averaged 93.2 mph; his sinker, 92.3. The two pitches have accounted for nine of the 10 homers he's allowed through the season's first month. He and Musgrove are tied for the MLB lead in homers allowed.

“We’ve talked about it,” King told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “If you look at my April average, I think it’s just like I’m almost one of those slower starters. Even as a reliever in April last year, my velo was down. So it’s just kind of, I catch my groove and get it going through the middle of the season and finish strong. But I remember being concerned about it last year when I was coming out of the bullpen throwing, like, 92, and I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ But my average, I think, was, like, 92.5 in ’22. My average in April of last year was, like, 92.7. So, I think it’s just kind of build throughout the year.”

The U-T noted that King's fastball velocity improved in the first inning of his most recent start, Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies, but still got hammered. Nor could he maintain the speed. King finished a six-run, three-homer clunker with an average fastball velocity of 93.2 mph.

J.P. Hoornstra


J.P. Hoornstra writes and edits Major League Baseball content for Halos Today and Inside the Padres, and is the author of 'The 50 Greatest Dodger Games Of All Time.' He once recorded a keyboard solo on the same album as two of the original Doors.