In a season full of underperformance across the roster, the Yankees bullpen remained one of the strengths of the team, their collective 3.34 ERA the best mark of any relief unit around the league. However, even though the group remained solid as a whole, we witnessed regression befall several individual members. Perhaps no reliever on the team experienced a more alarming drop in form than Ron Marinaccio.
2023 Statistics: 45 games, 47.1 IP, 3.99 ERA (109 ERA+), 4.69 FIP, 4.79 xFIP, 27.3 K%, 13.2 BB%, -0.2 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Entering second year of pre-arbitration eligibility
Marinaccio was the team’s breakout reliever of 2022, emerging from relative obscurity to post the best ERA (2.05) of any Yankee reliever with at least 25 innings pitched, immediately cementing himself within Aaron Boone’s circle of trust. Armed with one of the nastiest changeups in baseball, Marinaccio ran an elite strikeout rate in excess of 30 percent while largely keeping the ball in the park.
He started the 2023 season in a similar vein, pitching to a 0.93 ERA and 1.91 FIP with 14 strikeouts across his first eight appearances totaling 9.2 innings. That’s what made the precipitous drop off a cliff all the more bewildering. From his April 25th stinker onwards, Marinaccio posted a 4.78 ERA and 5.41 FIP in 37 appearances totaling 37.2 innings, culminating in an eight game stretch in July that saw him surrender eight runs, resulting in his demotion to Triple-A.
There is some evidence to suggest that Marinaccio was due for regression off his stellar rookie season. In 2022, he held batters to a .215 BABIP that was certain to regress toward the mean of almost .300 for relievers league-wide. He also managed an unsustainably low 4.7 percent home run per fly ball rate that returned right back to around league average at 12 percent in 2023 — something reflected in the narrowing of the gap between FIP and xFIP from 2022 to 2023. Interestingly, Marinaccio didn’t give up a higher rate of fly balls from year to year and his average launch angle remained the same — what happened is his average exit velocity on fly balls jumped almost three mph, leading his barrel rate to more than double from 5.3 percent to 11.4 percent, resulting in far more damage done against him.
Marinaccio is the perfect example of the pitfalls of a two-pitch reliever who pairs an elite secondary offering off an average fastball. When you lose your feel or mechanics for the offspeed pitch, all you’re left with is that so-so heater. He has tried at times to incorporate a sweeper into his arsenal, but as Noah profiled in May, he has inefficient mechanics when throwing the sweeper and its release point is different enough from the fastball and changeup that it’s immediately recognizable out of the hand.
We can therefore zoom in our focus on the changeup as the principal culprit for Marinaccio’s woes. Like his other pitches, the changeup dropped roughly a mile per hour in average velocity and lost about an inch of horizontal movement, but I don’t think these are behind its loss of effectiveness. Similarly, Esteban analyzed last year how Marinaccio’s changeup was a unicorn pitch on account of its sharp -1.5 degree horizontal approach angle (HAA). Its HAA saw no appreciable change from 2022 to 2023, so it appears the raw characteristics of the pitch remained stable (this is encouraging!).
Instead, I found that Marinaccio’s command nook a nosedive in 2023. He’s always liable to issue out free passes — his 13.3 and 13.2 percent walk rates in 2022 and 2023, respectively, placed him among the 15 most walk happy relievers with at least 40 innings in each season. However, the big difference I noticed was an inability to locate his changeup, throwing far more non-competitive pitches way too far below the zone to induce a swing.
If the changeup isn’t close to the zone to start out with, it becomes an easy take for the hitter. Indeed, Marinaccio’s chase rate on the pitch plummeted from 45.3 percent in 2022 to 29.7 percent in 2023, likely accounting for the loss of swing and miss on the pitch, going from a 40.9 percent whiff rate in 2022 to 30.1 percent in 2023 as well as an almost 150 point jump in wOBA against the pitch.
Back in July, Noah suggested that fatigue from an increased workload — Marinaccio had never hit the 40 inning threshold in any of his five minor league seasons — was to blame for his loss of effectiveness. This would certainly seem to lineup with his worst string of performances coming at the end of the year as well as the degradation of command. As I said before, the fact that his pitch metrics remained unchanged lends encouragement for next season — the pitches are still nasty, he just needs to get back to hitting his spots.