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40 in 40: Tayler Saucedo is at home

And I can't think of anywhere else I would prefer the local lefty to be.

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

From waiver wire pick up a year ago to being cemented into a bullpen role and fan favorite personality, Tayler Saucedo is quickly making a name for himself on the Seattle Mariners. Just one of many relief pitcher success stories in recent years from the Seattle organization, there is a spark of personality, a special sauce, if you will, that makes Tayler Saucedo stand apart.

The Journey

Born in Hawaii in June of 1993, Saucedo moved a few times growing up, with notable stops in Hawaii, Japan, Texas, and of course, Seattle. He discovered the sport of baseball while in Japan, and later went on to become a varsity product of Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, Washington. After some success playing college ball in Tennessee, he was drafted in the 21st round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, where he remained with the organization through seven minor league seasons through 2022. He made his major league debut in June of 2021, and made a few appearances at that level again in 2022, but struggled with both performance and injury throughout the season. In the following off-season he was DFA’d by the Toronto Blue Jays, picked up by the Mets who then proceeded to also DFA him, only to then finally be picked up by the Seattle Mariners.

One of the standouts of his minor league numbers along the way was a consistently decent-to-high strikeout rate, but a walk rate that was less consistent throughout and at times reared an ugly head. A stand out of character during his time with the Blue Jays would be his vocal stance on mental health issues, and dedication to being there for his teammates in that capacity.

The Homecoming

After spring training, the Mariners optioned Saucedo to start the minor league season with the Tacoma Rainiers. On April 18, 2023, he was added to the major league roster, where he remained for the rest of the season, appearing in 52 games and putting in 47.2 innings of work. His season numbers didn’t dazzle across, a respectable 20.8% strikeout rate balanced against a less respectable 11.1% walk rate, but overall he surprised as an effective lefty option. Accruing 0.7 rWAR, 0.2 fWAR, and putting up an ERA- of 88 and a FIP- of 92, the numbers tell a clear story of an above average and valuable contributor in Seattle’s bullpen. He did outperform both his xERA and his xFIP so some luck is suggested, but the difference in numbers is not alarming.

One change the Mariners made with Tayler Saucedo that might have finally helped him unlock some more success is a quite simple one. We have heard it echoed from pitchers in the system, sometimes it is as simple as having a pitcher do what he does well, only more.

Saucedo has a changeup with above average movement, it is a good pitch if not his best one, and in 2023 it became a much larger part of his arsenal, taking some of the usage of his slider. Sauce’s slider is about league average in movement and has decent shape to it, but he struggles to command it to be as effective as it perhaps could. With this in mind, the increase in changeup usage is welcome, and pairs fairly well with his already very good sinker.

The area most wanting for improvement in his 2023 season was his command, and that will be something to look for hopefully improving in 2024. The sinker is his most consistently located pitch, and the heatmap is living right by where you want it towards the bottom, but would be more effective in lefty-lefty matchups if he could move it a little out of the middle and to the left handed inside of the zone more. The hot spot on his changeup heat map suggests good location a lot of the time, but there is a clear need for consistency. The same is true for his slider with needing consistency, and while he often locates it neatly on the corner, he is almost as often leaving it in the middle of the zone. The Run Value numbers show us that this use of his sinker was the most effective with an RV/100 of 1.5, his changeup had a positive RV/100 of 0.2, and his slider well, slid, into the negative with a RV/100 of -2. Going into 2024, it wouldn’t hurt if the Mariners did decide to develop another pitch for Saucedo, but ultimately the focus should be just honing his use of what he has now to greater effect, the slider needing better command in particular.

A quick glance at his Baseball Savant sliders and it further paints the picture of the kind of pitcher he was in 2023. At times, he excelled at missing bats, even if he struck them out at a below average rate. Other times, he induced weak contact in an effective contact manager role. And even though a little unlucky in his expected numbers, he really was actually around league average in that regard.

More than just numbers stand out from his 2023 season with the Mariners, he also played a part in some memorable season moments, including getting the final outs in the last game that was the final nail in the coffin colloquially known as the Mickey Mop.

And who doesn’t like seeing some of the best on rival teams strike out?

The Sauce

Not only was the pitching effective, The Sauce was at times spicy. No, not in the messy Twitter drama sort of way, in the showing a lot of personality and unabashedly rooting for local teams sort of way, although much of that did take place on Twitter.

He showed gratitude for his teammates.

Uplifted the boys.

It wasn’t all just fun and games either, we saw him take accountability even during a win.

Through it all, though, he stayed humble.

He is Lil Queso.

It may always be easy to root for underdog success stories, and who doesn’t love cheering on a hometown kid? Tayler Saucedo represents the rare intersection of the two, and with a profile and personality that give plenty to look forward to in the year to come. When other teams gave up on him, Seattle welcomed him home where he has begun to thrive, becoming an important part of a 2023 relief battery dubbed the Fearsome Foursome. If he continues down the same path, the Mariners can expect good usage out of him. If he can unlock even a slight improvement in command on his secondaries, though, watch out - because it won’t just be jalapeño in the queso, it’ll be Pepper X.