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40 in 40: Mauricio Llovera might make the team

With a slider this nice, does it matter where it ends up?

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I was in a Lyft in Olympia the other day when the driver started talking to me. He didn’t say anything particularly rude or disagreeable, but his mere act of speaking was enough to jolt my delicate Pacific Northwestern sensibilities. Still, I did my best to channel my inner Ted Lasso by summoning up what little social acumen I have, and I made small talk.

It was pleasant enough. At the end of the thirty minutes, he dropped me off at my hotel and I got out of the car. You take care now, he said. Thanks, I replied. See you later.

Creeping horror immediately set in. See you later? I would almost certainly not be seeing him later! I tried to pacify myself by reasoning that either: I would actually see him later, and thus had not made a faux pas, or I wouldn’t ever see him again, and the memory of my faux pas would be safely buried in the recesses of each of our brains.

What do you say to someone who you just met, and you don’t think you’re going to see them again? What do you say to Mauricio Llovera?

As much as it pains me to say it, I think there’s a good chance that I’m as likely to ever see Mauricio Llovera in person as I am that Lyft driver. Llovera is a soon-to-be-28 righty reliever who the Mariners claimed off waivers about a month ago to add to The Pile. Our own Kate Preusser did a short and sweet introduction to him at the time.

The quick and dirty on Llovera is that he’s bounced around the league since first coming up with the Phillies in 2020. After being DFA’d by the Phillies following 2021, he did a year and a half with the Giants before getting DFA’d by them too. The Red Sox picked him up for the back half of 2023, which was nothing short of disastrous. A K-BB% of 8.8% usually doesn’t get it done (the league average is 14.0%), and that was shown with his 5.46 ERA with Boston.

Hiding behind the poor results was some raw stuff that feels like it should be passable. Llovera is a two-pitch guy, boasting a sinker that sits around 94-95 MPH and a slider that averages 83 MPH. The sinker isn’t anything special: it doesn’t move a whole lot, it isn’t that fast, and it grades as a pretty-much-average 104 by Stuff+. The slider is where the real juice is. It moves a lot: the 7.8 inches of horizontal movement versus average grades as the 13th most among all sliders in baseball. It moves even more than Matt Brash’s! With a 129 Stuff+ slider in his arsenal, it’s easy to wonder why Llovera hasn’t found more success.

The answer lies in his (lack of) command. Because he’s had such a hard time locating the slider, it seems hitters have been able to lay off it most of the time. That’s borne out in the numbers, which show Llovera has a 25.1% chase rate, compared to a league average of 31.7%. When he misses with the slider out of the zone, hitters don’t chase. When he misses in the zone, bad things happen.

You can, unfortunately, easily see the difference between where the catcher sets up and where the ball ends up in each of these.

And when Llovera doesn’t have command of his slider and is forced to rely on his sinker, even worse things seem to happen.

Llovera doesn’t even appear to miss here. We instead see the predictable result of a 91 MPH sinker up and in the zone to a Major League hitter.

I’d be remiss to include only Llovera’s foibles. Again, the slider really is tantalizing, as evidenced by this specimen captured by Kate that made Randy Arozarena look silly.

What might give Llovera an edge in the Spring Training battle is his contract status. Llovera is out of options. The only other relievers with a real chance of making the team who can say the same are Trent Thornton and Austin Voth (sorry, Kirby Snead). If the Mariners really do like what they see in Llovera, they might be tempted to keep him while optioning, say, a Ty Adcock or a Jackson Kowar.

I’d be surprised if Llovera ended up making the Opening Day roster, but considering the Mariners’ track record with finding diamonds in the rough, you never know. Can they help him control the slider? Can they squeeze a bit more velocity out of his diminutive 5’11” frame? Can they make the sinker a little more interesting?

Unless the answer to one or more of those questions is yes: come March 28th, it seems likely to be goodbye to Mauricio Llovera rather than see you later.