Whenever the Yankees lose in the playoffs, and especially when they do so in such disappointing fashion, it’s easy to forget all the good times.
The most recent version of the Yankees were flawed, yes, but they also got loads of value out of a roster that won 55% of its games for the sixth straight season. With all apologies to small sample size kings Michael King and Matt Carpenter, let’s appreciate three players who deserve more credit for the seasons they just completed.
It’s hard for a three-time All-Star and two-time batting champion to be unsung, but as he shared a lineup with a guy who banged 62 homers, LeMahieu flew under the radar.
His final numbers would have looked even better if not for a poorly timed foot injury that kept him out of the postseason for a second straight year, but LeMahieu’s offensive and defensive numbers were both better than they’d been in years. The advanced numbers weren’t in love with his performance at second base, but he graded very well at first and third base. With his age and injury history, the corners are probably his best habitat moving forward anyway, especially since his bat is lightyears better than Josh Donaldson’s.
LeMahieu’s 116 wRC+ was third on the team (minimum 200 plate appearances), trailing just Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. His .357 on-base percentage was second to Judge and his highest in a full season since 2019, when he finished fourth in the MVP race. Unfortunately, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the overall wear and tear on his body has zapped a lot of his slugging, which came in below .375 for the second year in a row. But he slightly made up for that with a career-high 12.4% walk rate.
If LeMahieu can stay on the field — his 125 games were the fewest he’s played in a non-COVID season since 2013 — there remains plenty of things to like about his game. He’s a contact-hitting machine that uses the entire field and despite playing the fewest games of anyone on the star-studded list, LeMahieu was still one of nine American League players with 30 extra base hits, 65 walks and an on-base percentage north of .350.
Not every pitcher has to be spectacular. They don’t all need to have a charring fastball or hissing slider.
Jameson Taillon is one of those pitchers whose raw stuff doesn’t wow anybody or end up making the rounds on Twitter. But he provided a stabilizing presence in a staff that lost Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas to the injured list in the second half and traded Jordan Montgomery away.
Taillon threw five or more innings in 26 of his 32 starts. Those 32 starts were his most since 2018 and resulted in the second-highest workload of his career, a godsend for a Yankee squad that needed someone to munch those innings. Taillon also dropped his walk rate from 7.3% in 2021 to a beautiful 4.4% in 2022, sixth-lowest among all qualified starters. An ERA and fielding independent pitching (FIP) under 4.00 is no small feat either when pitching in the American League East. And if you’re into this sort of thing, the Yankees went 24-8 in games Taillon started.
After playing the season on a one-year, $5.8 million contract, Taillon is set for free agency, presenting an interesting choice for the Yankees. A top-of-the-line starter would definitely help, but so would retaining the guy who was a rock at the backend of the rotation.
The rookie from Toms River was one of 14 AL relievers to toss at least 40 innings and strike out 30% of the hitters they faced. His changeup, the pitch that got him to the big leagues, was among the game’s very best. Per Statcast, only 11 relief pitchers got more swings and misses on their changeup than Marinaccio, who was limited to just 44 innings thanks to minor league demotions and injury.
That injury, a stress reaction in his shin, came at the very end of the regular season and kept him from appearing in the playoffs. As the Yankees fell to the Astros with manager Aaron Boone seemingly only trusting Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes in big spots, it was easy to wonder how Marinaccio would have factored into that series.
In situations classified as “late and close” (seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck), Marinaccio held his opposition to a .143 batting average and .268 slugging percentage. He was part of 23 plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position and surrendered two hits, none of which were home runs. Additionally, 31.1 of his 44 total frames came in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. While some of those were in garbage time, Marinaccio had a 1.72 ERA and 38 strikeouts.
He was good against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .576 OPS, but he was even harsher to lefties. On a team that missed Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton for large stretches of the calendar, Marinaccio’s .479 OPS against lefties was a huge boost, and part of what makes his future so encouraging. If he can fix his walk rate, which was sixth-highest among AL relievers who pitched as much as he did, he could move into the Yankees’ A-group of relievers in 2023.
“He’s had an outstanding season and been an important part of what’s gone on down there,” Boone said when Marinaccio got hurt.
At the very least, the 27-year-old’s debut should be enough to get him a new jersey number. Like many young players who get called up to the team with 21 retired numbers, Marinaccio was given digits mostly found on a defensive lineman or a hockey player. If he wants to, he’s certainly earned the right to ditch No. 97.