Last night Michael Lorenzen started the game for the Cincinnati Reds in Milwaukee. It was his first start since the 2015 season when he was a rookie, struggling to find consistency in the rotation. In 2016 he went into the spring to battle for a job in the rotation, but he came up injured and missed most of the first half. When he returned, it was in the bullpen. And while there’s been talk of starting since, it never happened. Until last night.

Michael Lorenzen threw 4.0 innings against the Brewers. He allowed one hit, one walk, hit a batter, and was charged with an unearned run. Lorenzen struck out three batters and threw 52 pitches with 36 strikes. All-in-all, it was a successful return to the rotation.

There’s long been the question of whether or not Michael Lorenzen should return to the rotation. Part of that probably is based around just how poorly the Reds rotation has performed over the last handful of years. Since he’s moved to the bullpen he’s posted a 3.57 ERA in 204.1 innings. His walk rate in that span is 3.4 batters per-9 innings pitched. The strikeout rate is 7.9 batters per-9 innings pitched. This season both rates are worse than those, but his ERA is better – sitting at 3.03. He’s kept the baseball in the ballpark better this year, helping counter the low strikeout rate and increased walk rate.

When looking at how that would translate to the rotation, it’s fair to say that what we’ve seen in 2018 probably doesn’t. The strikeout and walk rates simply don’t project well if they stay where they currently are. But the strikeout rate the previous two seasons, which were 8.6 and 8.7 batters per-9 innings pitched. Those rates will absolutely play in the rotation, though it would be expected to see them dip a tad moving back to the rotation. It’s been the increase in the last two years with the walk rate that’s been the issue, though.

Honestly, it’s tough to say one way or the other if the pitching abilities would translate well or not. The 3-year reliever stretch says maybe he could be a solid-ish starter if he can repeat the peripherals he showed at the time. Whether or not they could be maintained while asking him to throw 100 pitches instead of 20-35 is a very different thing, though.

Of course, with Michael Lorenzen there’s more to what he does than just the pitching. The dude can hit. And for a pitcher he hits so well that it’s an actual difference maker. This isn’t a Mike Leake situation where a guy hit well for a pitcher, but was really riding on the coattails of one or two seasons where he actually hit (he has a career .507 OPS).

A starting pitcher will typically get about 60 plate appearances in a season. In terms of offensive value, dating back to 2014, Madison Bumgarner is the top hitter. In 2014 he hit .258/.286/.470 that season in 78 plate appearances. His offensive value, according to Fangraphs, was 1.2. For comparison, Michael Lorenzen in 2018, in just 30 plate appearances, has been worth 3.4. The bar is very low for pitchers because they just can’t hit. So the value for a pitcher who actually can is enormous, even when the sample size is small.

This is the aspect of Michael Lorenzen that is probably more intriguing to me than whether or not he can start or relieve. Even if we believe that Lorenzen can start, the odds are that he’s probably more likely a back end of the rotation starter based on what we know. Those 60-ish plate appearances would add to his value. But could the Reds manage to get Lorenzen 150 plate appearances as a pinch hitter and allowing him more chances to hit as a reliever who pitches more multi-inning games? And if so, how valuable would that be by comparison?

There’s a lot of guessing that goes into that decision. First, could he continue to hit well with more exposure? Second, what kind of difference on the mound would there be between a starter and a reliever? And does that value get negated with the bat? Does the flexibility with the bench also add value that’s not showing up directly in the numbers? They are all tough questions to answer. The Cincinnati Reds front office is going to have to figure that out. It’s certainly an interesting question to ask. For me, I’d prefer to see them continue to use him as a reliever and find more ways to use him as a pinch hitter than they have this season.

DALTON AND GREEN IN 2018 T SHIRT

37 Responses

  1. DocProc

    I’d like to see him in the rotation. One characteristic of a good starter is having an assortment of pitches, and Lorenzen has at least 4 according to the last chart I saw. Romano should take over Lorenzen’s role as the “bridge guy” because he has only two pitches. He looked good last night in that long relief role.

    Having said that, I think starting pitching as we know it is going through a metamorphosis. If Lorenzen becomes a starter, I’ll bet they’ll only ask 4-5 innings of him per start. And if that’s all he pitches every 5th day, that should be easier on his arm, which has given him trouble in the past.

    And I would love to see him hit both in his starts and between starts. Get that guy to the plate any way you can.

    • ohiojim

      I think the key is to use Lorenzen in a structured predictable manner so as to maximize his offensive chances. This year when he has pitched 3 or 4 innings, he has sat at least 2 days before he pitched again. So, that can work as well as putting him into the rotation. Just always use him as the bridge man and leave him in to take ABs useless there is an extremely high leverage plate and a clearly better offensive player is available off the bench. This stretches the bullpen and at the same time averts some of the off the wall double switching which as often as not seems to come back and bite them later in a game.

    • Scott C

      That is what I would like to see. I have always liked Lorenzen he works hard (as can be seen in those forearms and Biceps) he has a good attitude. And has an assortment of pitches. He obviously is not going to go out there every night and dominate like he did last night. But with his assortment of pitches and the value he adds with the bat, he would be a good rotation piece.
      I also would like to see him used as a pinch hitter on days he is not pitching. That would give him the possibility of having around 150 AB’s per year.
      The one caveat in that, I think, would be that he would have to spend more time in the batting cage to be effective and I don’t know (really don’t have enough information) if that would fit into a starting pitchers routine.

  2. Jonathan

    My vote is to use him as a DH in AL parks. What would the harm be in that and how many AB does that equal over the course of a year?

    • Gaffer

      No need, he is a terrific CF. I bet he would be nearly as good as Hamilton overall. No one has made a point of that yet!

  3. Shawn

    You would think you could get him a lot more ABsas a starting pitcher. ABs in games he starts and between starts you don’t have to worry about saving him to pitch.

  4. Jeff

    Lorenzen has had 10 appearances of more than two innings this season and has a 20.8 K% and 8.3% BB% (similar to what he did last night) in those. If that’s what he is in longer stints, then he can start.

  5. AllTheHype

    When I read this, I was expecting maybe an analysis of his pitch mix and if he possesses the arsenal to start. Last night he seemed to throw 4 pitches, FB, SL, CH, CB. How do those pitches each grade, and does he have enough arsenal to get thru a lineup 3 times? What he has done thus far as a reliever is only partially relevant, since he would typically limit his arsenal as a reliever.

    • Nick

      Right now, Lorenzen throws five different pitches:

      Hard Sinker (94-96): This is Lorenzen’s main fastball. He’s thrown it 42% of the time this season. It moves 7-8 inches in toward right handers.

      Cutter (90-93): He uses this about 30% of the time. He takes some off of it when he wants it to be more slider like.

      4 seamer (95-98): He barely threw it this year until the last 4-5 appearances. A tick faster than the Sinker but with less movement. He’s been elevating it or trying to blow it by people for strikeouts of late.

      Changeup (86-88): He didn’t use this much until July but has thrown it roughly 10% of the time since July started. He uses it almost exclusively against lefties (though the strikeout of Cain last night was a changeup). It moves about 7 inches in on right handers and has been his best swing and miss pitch this season (35% whiff per swing rate)

      Curveball (80-83): This was Lorenzen’s best strikeout pitch in 2016 and 2017, but he didn’t use it at all until mid August this year. He was throwing a slider but decided to drop the slider in favor of the curve. It drops about 8 inches and moves about 3 inches away from right handers. Seems like he is still trying to regain the feel for it because he hasn’t had the same swing and miss results with it as he had the previous two seasons. In August and September, he’s used it about 8% of the time.

      • AllTheHype

        Thanks, very helpful. Pitch f/x registered his “slider” at 90-92 generally last night. I’m guessing that was really the cutter and Pitch f/x was just registering it wrong. Anyway, the counts from last night are as follows: 23 FB, 19 SL(Cutter?), 4 CH, 6 CB

      • Nick

        Yeah, the raw data oftensays his cutter is a slider, and when he was throwing the slider, that pitch would sometimes initially register as a curve.

        Brooks Baseball has a more accurate account of his offerings.

  6. abado

    If the Reds used an opener regularly, Lorenzen could come in the 2nd inning for 2-3 innings, and be in line for a PA or 2.

    This is kind of a halfway solution between starting and relieving, but it could be a way to get Lorenzen in the game close to when the pitchers spot is due up, which is ideally when you want to use him. But instead of waiting for the perfect situation to put him in, you’d be manufacturing a way to get him in the game close to when he could hit.

    I don’t like Lorenzen as a starter, but I also don’t like the Reds starting rotation outlook for 2019 overall. Could they use the opener strategy 2 games out of every 5 to help ease the burden? One of these games could be an opener followed by Mahle (or Reed or Stephenson) to help give him some relief from facing the opposing teams best hitters. The other could an opener followed by 2-3 long relievers, beginning with Lorenzen.

    I wish the Reds were more open to creativity.

    • Norwood Nate

      I definitely like the opener idea. I was thinking that I might like Lorenzen in that role. If he could open twice a week for 2-3 inning stints, he could hit for himself in these games as well. Knowing his opener days ahead of time would allow him to be used as a PH the other days. He could easily rack up over 120 IP opening twice a week.

    • RedsinWashst

      Being creative is not something the Reds have been good at. Maybe with the right manager it could be done. Personally I like him starting and then pitch hitting the other 4 days.

  7. RedsFaninPitt

    Give him time in RF. The Reds don’t have a pure RF that’s a top 15 prospect in their system. Guerrero and Aquino are probably bench players. I also like the starting 4-5 innings per start if he’s in the rotation. He’s so athletic, he needs to be used more than just a reliever.

    • Doug Gray

      The Reds actual right fielder is probably a better hitter than Lorenzen is long term…… so I’m not exactly moving him to make room for Lorenzen.

      • Optimist

        How about CF every 8th to 10th game? Beyond that, I doubt the FO is creative enough to craft a role. Just an idea, but how about 4 IP every 6 days, PH whenever, and the CF role? That could get him up to 200 PAs. Doubt he has Ohtani’s ceiling as a Pitcher, but could get close as a selectively limited hitter.

      • RedsFaninPitt

        Doug:

        I am not saying start him out there. I am suggesting putting him out there as a late inning defensive replacement and to replace a pitcher in the batting order a couple times per week. He would be our best defensive RF now, and having his bat replace a pitcher is an upgrade at the plate.

      • Doug Gray

        What suggests he’d be the best defensive right fielder right now?

      • RedsFaninPitt

        Doug:

        His arm and his speed. The Reds don’t have any clear RF now. Scheb doesn’t have the arm; Winker doesn’t have the arm or the speed. Ervin may be a good RF, but for some reason Riggleman never plays him there. Guerrero may be an option down the road,but it wouldn’t surprise me if Lorenzon could out hit him and all the bench guys.

  8. SultanofSwaff

    He’s proven he can relieve with a 2 pitch mix, as evidenced by the 0.248 BABIP vs. RH batters. His changeup is impressive, gets good separation, but he only throws it ~5% of the time because of his role in the bullpen. I’d like to see him start for a stretch because he does possess a credible 3 pitch mix……much more so than Romano and Mahle. Left handed batters have their way with Reds pitchers. Starting Lorenzen would be a step toward correcting that problem.

    My controllable starting pitcher leaderboard:
    Castillo
    Reed
    Lorenzen
    Disco
    Stephenson
    Mahle
    Santillan

    My plan for 2019—pony up the prospect capital to acquire a controllable top of the rotation starter, implementing a 4 man rotation who can get me thru a lineup twice, while keeping a fresh bullpen by using the Louisville shuttle repeatedly.

  9. AirborneJayJay

    Whatever the decision, they have to be committed to it. However with the Reds front office, committing to something and sticking to it is something they have showed very little aptitude at. They like to change horses in mid-stream more than any organization I have ever seen. The 4-man OF rotation, Winker the odd man out and to the bench and stopping the OF rotation, Senzel as a 3B, Senzel as a 2B, Senzel as a SS, and Robert Stephenson are but a handful of examples just from this season. It is fine to be adaptable, but the Reds front office does it exponentially.
    How do you get Lorenzen more AB’s? They have to commit to playing him in the field some. Or to be the first or second PH available off the bench on non-pitching days.
    Doug, what exactly is a routine for a starter on the days in between their starts? I know they just don’t sit around for 4 days waiting for their next start. I am not sure but I think Day 1 is with the trainers, Day 2 I am not sure, Day 3 a bullpen session, and Day 4 is prep for the next start going over scouting reports, data and such.
    Can you clarify? Thank you.
    And I would have never guessed that a potion of my namesake is one of your favorite movies. A young Jack Black and Seth Green, I’ll have to check it out sometime.

    • AirborneJayJay

      #%^!@&*%$. Showed = shown in second line. Potion = portion in next to last line.

  10. Kinsm

    He was moved to relief because he was terrible the 2nd time through a lineup, opponents had nearly a 1.000 OPS against him the 2nd time. He’ll enter next year with 3 years of service making good money – over 2 M$. One short start in September changes nothing – Relief is where he needs to stay.

    The only reason this is a discussion is because the Reds are terrible at developing starting pitching.

    • Nick

      He was moved to relief because of an injury. He got hurt while STARTING a game in spring training in 2016.

      Lorenzen may very well be better suited as a reliever, but I’m not sure his numbers as a 23-year-old when he was only in his second year ever as a full-time pitcher are relevant. He also didn’t throw his cutter or sinker then and those are his two most commonly used pitches now.

    • RedsinWashst

      Lorenzen wants to start badly. That should mean something, also it is not like the reds have a top 10 starting staff.

  11. Jon Ryker

    If he can get people out for 5 innings, he should start, because his bat will help. I’ve never really seen evidence he can do that, though.

  12. B-town Fan

    Perhaps the Reds prefer him more as a reliever, but what about from his point of view. He got thrown into the rotation in 2015 in his second full season as a professional with limited time as a starter in the minors, and then has never got another chance. He wants to start, there is no money in the role he has been in, that is just the way it is. Starting Pitchers get paid a lot, Closers get paid a lot, multi inning Pitchers that come in early in the game even if its a higher leverage situation sometimes don’t get paid as much by quite a large margin. So you can see why he would want to become a starter. He seems to have been able to handle the mental part of pitching better at the Major league level with the more experience he has gotten. Also the fact that it generally takes pitchers longer to master their craft at the major league level. I would say start him if he can perform at high level, it’s not like the Reds are flush starting pitching.

  13. GM Nep O'Tism

    He should have been a CFer. I feel like the Reds complete failure to develop any pitchers has coincided with their weird obsession with taking non-starters and trying to turn them into starters.

    -Finnegan was a relief pitcher in KC, Reds made him a starter.
    -Lorenzen was a CF/Closer, Reds made him a starter.
    -Iglesias was a relief pitcher, Reds made him a starter.
    -Greene was a SS, Reds made him a starter.

    Are other teams other than the Reds doing this? Real question because I legitimately don’t know if this is a common practice or not. I thought it was normally the other way around, converting starters into relievers when they couldn’t develop a third good pitch.

  14. Simon Cowell

    I see no reason why Lorenzen needs a defined role. He can be starter, relief pitcher, and a batter. He can be all 3. Let him start a game pitch 3 innings, put him in the outfield for 4 more, and then let him close out the game. Not a single reason why not to use him in dual roles.

  15. MK

    I would give him a shot at a starting pitcher role especially if Big Sally can handle a relieving role. One thing he needs to decide is if he is going to be a body builder or a pitcher. Baseball pitcher weight training should be more about long strong muscles rather than short bulging ones. The heavy muscles are more conducive to relief pitching as they can lead to fatigue in a starting role. This could be a reason for the extreme lack of success the second a third time through the order.

  16. Bill

    He seems to pitch his best in the longer relief outings. Starting pitching is the Reds #1 need. He should start until he proves he belongs in the bullpen. Like others have mentioned, the Reds rushed him to the majors in 2015 and he wore down over the season. After his injury in 2016, he was never really given another opportunity. Yesterday, though only one game, was promising. He should get a couple more starts this season and come into spring training ready to prove he belongs in the rotation. His bat would be a huge bonus as a starter.

  17. Kindell

    We can look up every number related to Lorenzen and make arguements for or against it.

    My arguement is that why not give him a chance. We have given guys with much less talent more opportunities. I would like to see him make it as a fifth starter and try to get him 200 ABs.

    You do have to wonder what potentially could have been 8f he stayed in CF. He was a much better draft prospect as a pitcher but I am not sure anyone realized he had the raw tools to work with. This team needs to find unique ways to use unique talents like MiLo if they are going to compete.

  18. ClayMC

    I don’t understand the desire to put him in the field or to pinch hit him. The key is opportunity cost. To put him in the field or pinch hit just takes away at-bats from other offensively talented players, players who can probably produce at levels similar to Lorenzen. The net difference is likely negligible.

    The true advantage of having a Michael Lorenzen is having him take at-bats away from the starting pitcher. That’s where the most damage is done. Lorenzen needs to be starting, even if it means pitching 4-5 innings a start. Even if he’s only a back-of-the-rotation arm, that’s a step up from some of the guys we’ve tried out there in recent years, and his offensive ability would likely push his overall value up to a league-average level. And after these last 3 or so years, I would LOVE to have a league-average arm in this rotation, especially one that would put butts in the seats.