Who Is The Second-Best Reliever On The Mariners Right Now?

We all know Andres Munoz is the first-best reliever on the Mariners; it goes without saying, it’s so obvious. I don’t know where the Mariners would be right now without Munoz, but they’d be considerably worse-off. Maybe even at or below .500.

But, who’s #2? It’s kind of a bummer of a question, because the real answer is the second-best Mariners reliver is on the IL at the moment. It’s probably Matt Brash (if he isn’t actually #1), followed by Gregory Santos. Two of our top three relievers are out of commission, and it’s kind of a steep decline from there.

It’s not fatal, though. This is still a good bullpen. And it has the potential to be great, if Santos comes back, and if we trade for someone like Paul Sewald. But, I think Scott Servais and the Analytics Department do a good job of papering over the bald spots of this group, that might otherwise be in weaker hands if we were just managing this bullpen with our guts, or conventional wisdom.

If you’ve watched the Mariners this year, you know that after Munoz (or, rather, before Munoz, if it’s the 8th inning or earlier), we tend to see Ryne Stanek. He’s the designated #2 in this bullpen. But, is he actually the second-best reliever? Probably not. He has the most experience in high-leverage situations, but I wouldn’t say he’s the #2 guy I trust the most to get me out of a jam, or to bridge that gap to Munoz. Sure, he throws the ball hard – often touching triple digits – but it’s awfully straight and hittable. I would also say his splitter or whatever he throws to get outs isn’t what was advertised. 11 of his 27 appearances has been for less than 1 full inning, often because he’s getting himself into jams that other guys (likely Munoz, for a 4-out or 5-out save) have to get him out of. He has a 4.38 ERA at the moment, and it feels like it could be a lot worse.

Through the first month, I would’ve said Gabe Speier was the second-best reliever (with his sub-1 ERA), but his month of May was pretty atrocious, and now he’s on the IL, so wipe that away.

There’s something to be said for Tyson Miller, who had a nice start to his season as well, but we let him go and now he’s kicking ass for the Cubs.

Tayler Saucedo has good-looking numbers, and has had a few big moments this year (including finishing off the 10th inning in Kansas City for his third save of the season), but for the most part I wouldn’t say he’s coming up in the highest-leverage situations. He’s a nice lefty, but I’m not ready to put him in that upper tier just yet.

There’s a number of journeymen relievers we’ve brought in here, who’ve had varying degrees of success, in spite of finding themselves sort of up and down between the Majors and minors. Austin Voth is probably the best story of the bunch, in that he’s managed to not only stick with the Mariners all year, but is doing pretty well for himself. In the early part of the season, it seemed like he was more of a mop-up artist, but he’s slowly, but surely, finding his way into bigger spots. I still wouldn’t put him in the top two, though.

One very interesting name is Mike Baumann, who we recently picked up from the Orioles. I found it extremely intriguing when I heard on the radio last week that the Mariners’ hitters vouched for him, as he was a tough at-bat for those who’ve faced him. Even though he’s been very good for the Mariners so far, I don’t know if I’m there with him just yet. He seems to have another fastball with not a ton of movement, and without a very distinct off-speed pitch. I’m still on a wait & see approach with him.

Who I think is probably the actual second-best reliever is also the guy I would’ve been least likely to believe to be the second-best reliever heading into the season, and that’s Trent Thornton.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think he’s great or anything. I would still place him firmly in a tier or two below Andres Munoz. I couldn’t possibly tell you how he had a 2.08 ERA with the Mariners last year (after coming here from Toronto in a mid-season trade), except to say his FIP was actually 4.72, which leads me to believe his defense largely saved his bacon, and/or he left a bunch of runners on base only for other guys to pull him out of the fire. Either way, I was largely unimpressed with Thornton last year, and came into 2024 wondering why he was still on the team.

Yet, this year, as things have shaken out, he did very well in low-leverage situations, to the point where he started earning more opportunities in close games that we could actually win! Now, it hasn’t always worked out; he has a 3.62 ERA, after all. But, his FIP is actually 2.86, meaning he should actually have better numbers than he does!

Ultimately, I think Thornton and Baumann are pretty close to the same guys, and maybe even throw Stanek in that bunch. I don’t think any of them have done enough to earn the 8th inning on a regular basis. But, they’re right there, good enough to maybe get a 7th inning every now and again, or to be put into tie games or games where we’re not losing by much and want to just keep it close to see if our offense scores late.

But, if we had to rely on those three guys exclusively in the biggest situations? I think it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

A bullpen is a fragile ecosystem. Guys need to have their roles sussed out. Ideally, we’re able to keep Munoz upright and dominating all year. Ideally, Santos will make his comeback at mid-season and take some of the load off of Stanek and Thornton. Ideally, Logan Evans will get called up at some point and become the next Matt Brash. Even if he does, it won’t start off that way; he’s going to have to earn his high-leverage spots. But, if by season’s end, we can put some space between Munoz and the Stanek/Thornton/Baumann triumvirate, I think we’ll have a nice little unit we can go to war with come playoff time.

In the interim, maybe Thornton keeps getting the job done. Maybe he’s the next Justin Topa. If nothing else, he’s another feather in the cap of this organization’s uncanny ability to get the most out of average-looking guys in the bullpen. Where were these coaches back in the 90’s, when the bullpen was – without question – our biggest Achilles heel?