Prior to this year, the numbers, though a shade pedestrian, looked pretty good overall. He’d hit .290, but his reputation as a bit of a free swinger was well-earned in that he only gotten on base at a .336 clip. His bat had some pop, though, enough to hit 36 doubles to go with 14 homers. The WAR-o-meter sat at 2.2, good, but not anything that would make folks stand up and blink. Add in the fact that Saucedo’s legs will never be mistaken for Mons Raiders, that his next stolen base this year will be is career 3rd, and you can see why he just doesn’t register on the list of Center Fielders You’d Like to Remember.
They are good numbers, though. Useful. And perhaps most important, though, was that they were numbers created—like his numbers had always been created—in a role that was primarily a platoon. His left handed bat was solid enough against right handed pitching, but suspect enough to suggest a partner.
And, well, there’s the defense, which even he’s getting to the point where he acknowledges his own shortcomings. “There’s other guys that can get to balls I can’t, but I’m doing my best.” Baseball people in the Nine organization are anxious about his lack of range, which shows up in both basic defensive numbers and in the advanced stats that the team tries to use to squeeze value out of players. “They look at me and say I need to take better routes, but I think I’m running pretty straight,” Saucedo says with a smile. The bottom line is that until this season, the team had always paired Saucedo with a platoon partner whose glove could step in during the late innings.
This year, though, things are different. This year. “With Lucas McNeill moving to first base essentially full time, we needed the roster spot for another platoon,” said GM Ron Collins. “So this year we asked Mauro to play center full time, and to be honest, his numbers are surprising.”
Those surprising numbers include a .294/.343/.483 line that comes along with 29 doubles and 20 homers while leading off against RHP and hitting in the #9 slot against lefties (the opposite cycle as SS Miguel Padilla). The number that’s even more impressive is the -4 ZR, which is ugly but nowhere as ugly as the team thought it might wind up being. Even better, Saucedo is likely several plays above league average by the team’s advanced metrics when it comes to fly balls. Line drives are a bit of a different story, but then at this point no one is expecting Machiavellian defense from Saucedo.
“I always said I could hit lefties a little,” Saucedo said. “So it’s not a surprise to me. It helps that Emilio is here, tough.”
Emilio is, of course, Hall of Famer Emilio Rodriguez, who has been focusing on Saucedo at times. “Mauro was already a tough strike out,” Rodriguez said. “so the key is that he work on getting the ball in play and letting his natural pop take care of things.”
Which, apparently, that pop has been doing. His 2.4 WAR to date is the highest since a few stops in the minor leagues, and as long as he keeps the arrow pointed the right way would wind up being (obviously) a career high. He’s making $3M this year (with an extra $100,000 for meeting his performance bonus), and is looking at a new pass through arbitration that one expects will increase that number substantially. With no obvious heir ready next year, the team has said they would like to get a deal done before the end of the season that would keep them out of the arbitration room, but other constraints are getting in their way. “Those things will work out,” Saucedo said. “They’re out of my hands, you know? I got enough trouble trying to run straight routes without thinking about money right now.”