The Yankees are quietly putting together a potentially dominant bullpen. It will no longer have recent liability Aroldis Chapman, and it will – hopefully – have Michael King and Ron Marinaccio at full strength. Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loásiga, Lou Trivino, Tommy Kahnle, and whoever loses the rotation battle between Clarke Schmidt and Domingo Germán will also be relief stalwarts.
Marinaccio’s health will be one of the factors determining the upside of this group, not to mention the Yankees’ trust in his abilities. Let’s remember that he spent a few weeks of the second half in the minors when he really shouldn’t have, and re-aggravated a shin injury late in the season that took him out of consideration for the playoffs.
He has enormous talent. In 44 big league innings last year, he posted an incredible 2.05 ERA. Other run prevention metrics weren’t quite as kind – he had a 3.20 FIP and a 4.05 xFIP – but he struck out an impressive 30.9 percent of the hitters he faced.
If he truly wants to take a step forward though, and enter a whole new tier of undervalued star relievers in the league, he needs to improve one key aspect of his game: control.
Hurting yourself with walks will make you walk on a tightrope, particularly as a late-inning reliever, flirting with danger due to high baserunner traffic outing after outing. Marinaccio enjoyed some nice batted ball luck (.215 BABIP, .146 batting average against) in 2022, but if he keeps walking more hitters than he should and some of those balls start seeing some grass, it could become problematic.
He does have the strikeout ability to get out of jams, based mostly on an incredible changeup. The pitch earned a 40.9 percent whiff rate and returned a .210 xwOBA. It is the perfect offering to pair with his four-seam fastball and his slider.
The right-hander, however, walked 24 batters in his 44 frames. That’s 4.91 per nine innings, or a 13.3 percent walk rate that looks way too high. Part of the reason ERA estimators aren’t as high on him is that he managed to strand 81 percent of runners last year, a well above average figure, one that will likely come down if he keeps issuing free passes at that rate.
It also seems like his control got a bit worse in September, although that could have something to do with his injury:
Marinaccio has had control issues in the past during his time in the minors. He had a solid 2.7 BB/9 in 26.2 Triple-A innings in 2021, but it was 4.3 in 39.2 Double-A frames. The number was 5.01 in Class-A in 2019, over a 32.1-inning sample. These aren’t big samples, and he’s clearly jumped around a bit when it comes to walk rate over the years.
It got a bit worse, understandably, with the transition from Triple-A in 2021 to the majors last year, but that’s to be expected given his past issues throwing strikes. If he can improve some more and get his BB/9 into the 3.00s – even the high 3.00s – he could blossom into one of the American League’s best relievers. He has that kind of talent, obvious to anyone that’s seen him drop in a changeup:
Marinaccio managed a .210 xwOBA with the pitch, in the 90th percentile among pitchers with at least 50 thrown in 2022. The change allows him to effectively attack hitters of both handedness, and could allow him to get more than three outs a time more easily. Straightening on his control would allow him to navigate lineups in high-leverage situations with ease, giving the Yankees another tremendous relief weapon at Aaron Boone’s disposal.
He can still be an effective MLB reliever with a slight control problem. We have seen dozens of those thrive in the majors. However, his ceiling – and that of the Yankees’ bullpen – will definitely move higher if he can keep the bases on balls under wraps.