It still seems as if Michael Lorenzen’s career with the Cincinnati Reds is in its infancy despite the fact that he’s already in his first year of arbitration eligiblity. Perhaps that’s because of the number of injuries he’s fought through keeping him on the sidelines from time to time, the forearm dogging him last year before an oblique sat him down for much of 2018.
Perhaps it’s also due to how quickly the former 2013 1st round draftee reached the big leagues, too, as he threw 113.1 mostly as a starter for the Reds as early as 2015 before switching to a bullpen role. Regardless, the fact is that the Reds have received a grand total of 1.7 bWAR from Lorenzen over the parts of the last four seasons in which he has contributed, and while that’s certainly better than zero or negative production during that time, it’s hard not to look at the guy and dream on him being more than just the third or fourth best relief option in the bullpen of a last place team.
That’s especially true when he does things like this...
.@Lorenzen55 rips a 116.5 mph single, setting a @Reds record for exit velocity.— #Statcast (@statcast) June 7, 2018
Oh by the way, it’s also the hardest-hit ball by any @MLB pitcher since #Statcast began tracking in 2015. pic.twitter.com/KurDF5Z78W
It’s also easy to forget just how potent Lorenzen’s bat was while he was an outfielder for Cal-State Fullerton, as he hit .335/.412/.515 in 227 AB in his final season there, whacking 7 dingers, 4 triples, and 12 doubles while batting mostly cleanup. It was a hitting profile that didn’t have Perfect Game wondering in 2013 if he’d be draftable as a hitter given his high-velocity arm as a closer, it was one that had them wondering if ‘Michael Lorenzen the hitter’ had peripheral arm-talent good enough for a team to actually draft him as pitcher.
The Reds, of course, toggled with that idea briefly after drafting him, but have used him exclusively as a pitcher as a professional. In many ways, he’s largely become the poster boy for the team’s trend at the time of attempting to find under-used arms that had mostly been used as relief options and trying to turn them into major league caliber starting pitchers, alongside the likes of Tony Cingrani, Raisel Iglesias, and Nick Howard, among others. And while he still has immense upside as lock-down reliever - when healthy - it’s hard not to watch him take swings like he did yesterday and wonder how things might’ve gone differently had he been plugged into an outfield role after being taken 38th overall five years ago.
That exit velocity number isn’t just the best by a pitcher in the StatCast era, after all; it’s the single highest number by any Cincinnati Reds hitter in that same era, as The Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale noted. And when you see that side by side with Cincinnati’s collective OF ranking in the bottom handful of all MLB teams in things like wOBA, ISO, and wRC+, it’s certainly enough to kick-off the ‘what if’ game, particularly given how few legitimate OF options there are in the upper minors at the moment.
For now, the Reds have a righty reliever who can give them multiple innings of near 100 mph heat - when healthy - and can chip in here and there with pinch-hit opportunities, and that’s certainly a decent asset to have around. However, the tantalizing combination of StatCast data and those freakin’ bulging biceps just might leave us forever wishing there’d been much, much more.