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The Red Report 2020 - Michael Lorenzen

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Is this the season Michael Lorenzen becomes an elite reliever?

2020 Cincinnati Reds Photo Day Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Born January 4, 1992, in Anaheim, California.
  • Attended Fullerton Union High School in Fullerton, California, before attending Cal State - Fullerton for college.
  • Fullerton Union High School features two Major League Baseball Hall of Famers: SS “Irky, Irky” Arky Vaughn (1932 - 1948, with a three year break between 1944 - 1946, because he was traded to Brooklyn and hated Leo Durocher), and Walter Johnson (1907 - 1927, won two MVPs with the Washington Senators and holds the Major League records for shutouts in a career).
  • Bats: Right; Throws: Right
  • Used to smoke the reefer.
  • Is a two-way player, but not really, if you know what I mean.

Organizational History

  • Drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays out of high school in the seventh round of the 2010 amateur draft. Did not sign.
  • Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round (38th overall) of the 2013 amateur draft.
  • Made MLB debut on April 29, 2015.
  • ARB-2; Free Agent: 2022

Career Stats

Scouting Report

Loren-zip

Projections

Outlook

Michael Lorenzen might just be settling in. He’s always been rather useful, his 2015 debut as a starter notwithstanding. Since transitioning to a relief role due to a UCL sprain to begin the 2016 season, he’s seen his ups and downs but, for the most part, he’s been fine. He was definitely good in his short 2016 season, combining an 8.6 K/9 with a 2.3 BB/9 to produce a 2.88 ERA in 50 innings pitched, but he followed that up with somewhat of a head-scratching 2017 season that saw his BB/9 climb into the upper threes. It was the tail of two halves, really, after carrying a 2.93 ERA into the break, Lorenzen finished off the season with a 6.32 ERA in his final 37 innings pitched.

At the time, no one was really sure what to expect from Lorenzen, and his 2018 season didn’t provide a ton of answers. The results were fine (3.11 ERA in 81 IP), but nothing really changed about the peripherals. He still walked way too many batters (3.8 per nine) and his strikeouts plummeted (80 in 2017 to only 54 in 2018). So, it wasn’t a surprise that his FIP outpaced his ERA by more than a run. It suggested there would be some real regression coming in the 2019 season.

Except that didn’t happen. In 2019 Lorenzen had his best year to date. His 2.92 ERA was just fractionally higher than his career best in 2016, but it came in over 30 more innings. He posted a career high in K/9 (9.2) while lowering his walks. He was, generally, less hittable than he’s basically ever been. And, as you can see on the Statcast scale above, the contact that he did give up was weak, ranking in the 99th percentile in average exit velocity and 93rd in hard hit percentage.

Pitch usage could likely be some of the reason here (data from Statcast). After using his sinker nearly 40% of the time in 2018, Lorenzen cut its usage all the way down to 15.7% in 2019, favoring a cutter (26.5%), a four seamer (21.3%), and a changeup (19.5%). Particularly effective was the changeup. After using it just 7.4% of the time in 2018 to not great results (.529 slugging against), Lorenzen found a way to harness it in 2019. Throwing it 253 times in total, it regenerated a swing and miss 44.7% of the time.

So for the first offseason ever, it’s become clearer not only what Lorenzen can do, but also maybe what we might be able to expect him to do. Assuming the changes he made to his pitches and pitch usage aren’t just a one year fluke, the result seem to be sustainable.

For his part, he seems to be working harder than ever. He visited Driveline this offseason with the goal of raising his velocity even more by making his delivery more consistent. His goal is to throw a pitch at 103 MPH this season. Whether or not that mark is particularly prudent, are you going to doubt that he can’t do it?

Despite his total usage late last season, he will not enter 2020 with the new two-way player designation (which is, in his own words, “ridiculous”). That said, there’s been a lot of talk about his versatility this offseason and what he can bring not only as a shutdown reliever, but also as a position player. It’s not something I’m going to spend a ton of time dwelling on here, but it’s definitely a wrinkle in how he can be used. With the outfield glut as it currently stands, and everyone healthy, there’s not much of a reason to use a pitcher in the outfield, even if that pitcher can handle himself at the plate. While nobody is going to mistake Michael Lorenzen as a typical reliever trying to pitch, he is not a better option than any of the four or five top outfielders projected to make the team.

What he does add, however, is a relief pitcher that you could reasonably ask to bat for himself if the need arises. Late in a close game, you don’t necessarily have to pull Lorenzen just because his spot comes in the order, especially if you’d be inclined to send him back out for another inning to pitch. It’s a luxury to be sure, but the fact is Lorenzen is here to pitch. Anything he does at the plate is merely a bonus.