One of the talking points in Reds camp so far has been the role of Michael Lorenzen in 2021. He’s stated his interest in being in the starting rotation, and has planned to move to that role to start the year. Is that decision ultimately up to him, though?
Let’s take a step back and examine how we got here. Lorenzen’s handled many roles throughout his career, starting as a shutdown closer for an excellent Cal State Fullerton team. He made the move to starting games in 2014 as he started the year in AA as a Pensacola Blue Wahoo, and then debuted the next year starting 21 games for the rebuilding Reds. The 2016 season saw the Reds sifting through lots of arms to see what they had, and despite 15 different Reds starting pitchers that year, Michael Lorenzen wasn’t one of them. Instead, Lorenzen found footing as the surprising bright spot of a bullpen that ended up being a strength for the Reds that year, posting a 2.88 ERA and a full 2 strikeout jump in strikeouts per 9 innings from 6.6 to 8.6.
Over the last 5 seasons, it’s hard to think of a Reds reliever more reliable than Michael Lorenzen has been. Pair that with his versatility as a pinch-hitter and an occasional outfielder, and it’s easy to see what his role in 2021 could be, with one caveat. Michael wants to start.
We saw a taste of what he brought to the table in his two starts last year, and I’m not really going to look too much into his approach as a starter in 2015 because he’s so much different of a pitcher now. The thing that intrigues me about how he’d adjust is how he held up in his starts against the Pirates on September 15th, and against the White Sox on September 20th. He went 5 innings in that first start, only giving up 1 run and earning the win, and went 4 1/3 innings against the White Sox in a start that might have been more impressive, honestly, as he struck out 8.
Looking at the Statcast data, he’s actually been making his starter case over the past couple of seasons. If you look at his Run Values, his secondary stuff has gotten better and he’s been able to spin his fastball more. That’s resulted in more swings and misses and less hard-hit balls. Instead of being a slider-sinker pitcher who’s trying to get double-play balls, he’s throwing 6 pitches for some effectiveness and getting strikeouts. That’s a huge difference.
All of that sounds good, right? Seems like all of the indicators are there, he feels like he’s mentally ready for it, and if he prepares to go every 5th day, that’s great. Unfortunately for him, the decision of who goes every 5th day is David Bell’s to make, and David Bell has a bit of a logjam when it comes to his pitchers.
As long as they’re healthy on Opening Day, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo will be in the starting rotation. It’s hard to imagine that Tyler Mahle would be in the bullpen at this point, as he’s proven himself a solid starting option over multiple seasons now. Wade Miley is still here and the Reds aren’t paying him $8M and expecting him to be the mop-up guy. He’s been around long enough that if he’s here, he’s probably going to start.
That leaves one spot. Jeff Hoffman, Noe Ramirez, and Sal Romano are all out of options, and Jose De Leon is the thick of things as well. Any or all of those guys could go into the bullpen with Lorenzen being in the rotation, but how realistic is that? From a roster perspective, does it make sense to lose one (or possibly two) of those guys to give Michael Lorenzen a rotation spot?
I tend to think that the Reds have a good problem to solve here, honestly. If injuries pop up or the out-of-options crew prove to be not good enough, he’s in the rotation. If they need a rotation spot to keep someone else around, he’s in the bullpen.
He’s even pretty much acknowledged as much, and has really been using his spring training reps to hone his secondary stuff. From after his last start:
If anything, it shows that even more than in years past, the Reds are relying on data to drive their on-field decisions. Lorenzen is absolutely right that what he does in spring shouldn’t matter. It won’t matter, because at the end of the day, he’ll pitch where the Reds need him most.
(No, not from shortstop.)