It was a tale of two halves for the Yankees’ bullpen last season. Up to the All-Star break, Yankees’ relievers ranked second in the majors in WAR (4.5) and ERA (2.89) while leading the league in FIP (3.05). But after the midway point, the unit took a step back. Their ERA rose 19 points to 3.08 and their FIP went up nearly 70 points to 3.74 — falling to 15th in the league— due to a dropoff in strikeout minus walk rate (moving from 15.9 to 12.4 percent).
On the other hand, Ron Marinaccio represented something of an exception: he was good to begin with and just kept getting better. His first-half ERA of 2.33 dropped to 1.82, he bumped his K-BB rate up three points, and his FIP only increased by 26 points after the break. His xFIP, meanwhile, dropped over a run. His ability to keep this momentum going will be crucial to the success of a Yankees pen that has already had to stomach the losses of Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino to start the season, while the most prominent healthy reliever at the backend in Clay Holmes saw his 1.31 first-half ERA balloon to 4.84 after the All-Star break.
2022 Statistics: 40 games, 44 innings, 2.05 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 30.9 K%, 13.3 BB%, 0.4 fWAR
2023 FanGraphs ZiPS Projections: 46 games, 57.7 innings, 3.43 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 32.0 K%, 11.5 BB%, 0.5 fWAR
While each of Marinaccio’s halves was bookended by an injury, he succeeded nonetheless. This year, he’ll be entering the season with a clean bill of health. A shin injury precluded him from participating in the playoffs last year, and despite it hindering his normal offseason routine, he’s gotten into some Grapefruit League action in the last week. Through three appearances, he’s accrued 3.1 innings with six strikeouts against just a hit and a walk.
His bread and butter last year, the changeup, has notched three whiffs on 13 pitches where pitch tracking has been available this spring. This 23.1 percent swinging strike rate on the change would be in line with his 20.6 percent rate last year, which ranked 16th of the 106 pitchers who threw at least 250 changeups. In that same group, Marinaccio’s change tied for ninth in run value; per 100 tosses, it tied for third.
He’s found success setting up his money pitch with a four-seamer at 94.6 mph; at 10.7 mph, Marinaccio has an ideal velocity separation between his fastball and change. While the fastball’s velocity isn’t overwhelming, its movement is plus, as it generates 11 percent more rise and 45 percent more run than similar four-seamers.
His three-quarters slot enables him to get the best of both worlds in terms of movement, while his changeup has similarly above-average drop and run.
Interestingly, the right-handed Marinaccio worked to a reverse-platoon split last year: lefties managed just a .224 wOBA and 20.4 K-BB%, while righties put up a more-palatable .280 wOBA and a 14.8 K-BB%. At the same time, this does make sense given the arm-side movement, away from lefties, that his fastball-changeup combo relies on.
The last piece of the puzzle for Marinaccio is erasing this split. In order to do so, he’s been workshopping his slider, which moves away from right-handers. He actually switched to a less-sweepy slider in June:
But the increase in velocity has made up for the lack of sweep and a bit less drop: the slide piece averaged 78.6 mph through May and heated up to 80.9 from June on. The pitch, used almost exclusively against righties, cost Marinaccio 1.9 runs through May and saved him 0.3 runs from June on. Its improvement helps to explain Marinaccio’s overall better second half.
If he can continue refining his slider, Marinaccio has a chance to turn into a legitimate multi-inning weapon in the later innings for the Yankees. Even without the third pitch, his ability to neutralize lefties is one of the reasons the Yanks don’t need an extra southpaw in their ‘pen this year. With the shin injury in his rearview mirror, I’m confident big things are in store for the young right-hander this season.