We all know the Reds have big decisions to make regarding their 2017 rotation and beyond. With a plethora of talented, young, potential starting pitchers in the system, they certainly have options.
Going into next season, we expect Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani to start and if Raisel Iglesias can shoulder (haha) a starting pitching load, he likely takes a third spot. While Dan Straily has pitched well this season, his lack of upside will likely give way to younger pitchers with better raw stuff.
That leaves a bunch of potential starters for two or three spots, depending on what happens with Iglesias. Those options include the following:
- Cody Reed
- Amir Garrett
- John Lamb
- Brandon Finnegan
- Robert Stephenson
- Michael Lorenzen
Quite an impressive list. I’m a big fan of most of them. Each one could be a serviceable starter, while several have front of the rotation type stuff. And yet, many of them have serious question marks.
Can Finnegan and Stephenson stop walking everyone? Will Finnegan be able to bring down that sky high homerun rate? Can John Lamb stay healthy and survive with a fastball that averages less than 90 MPH? Can Cody Reed rebound after getting pounded in his first Major League stint?
You have to figure that two or three of these players end up in the Reds’ bullpen unless they trade some of their pitching depth for other needs. Everyone seems to think that Michael Lorenzen is destined for the bullpen – but he shouldn’t be.
I know he would likely be a dominant reliever; he might be already. Most solid starters would be. Garrett, Finnegan, Stephenson, and Reed would all make fantastic relievers. Great stuff plus limited innings is a great formula for bullpen success, and all of those pitchers have great stuff.
Just because Lorenzen has had success in the bullpen does not mean they should keep him there. His potential should grant him a few starts this year and in Spring Training. After that, if the Reds decide they have five better starters, send him to the bullpen. I’m not convinced he isn’t one of the five best.
In 2015, Lorenzen had a rough year as a 23-year-old in the starting rotation. He didn’t strikeout enough batters, walked too many players, and had a horrific home run to fly ball rate.
But many young players struggle, and Lorenzen’s circumstances suggest we should have expected him to. First, he played mostly centerfield in college and was drafted in 2013. The Reds quickly decided to make him and his premium arm a starter, something he hadn’t done before.
Then, Lorenzen took off. In his first and only full season as a starter in the minor leagues, Lorenzen posted a 3.13 ERA at AAA. His strikeout rate was a tad low, but he made up for it by inducing groundballs at will. A first-time starter holding his own in AA in his first full season of pro ball? Almost unheard of.
Lorenzen was supposed to spend most, if not all of 2015 in AAA, further honing his new craft. Instead, the Reds came calling after just three starts because of the Homer Bailey injury. He had impressed in Spring Training, and Lorenzen’s talent and low ERA were too much to resist.
Then, Lorenzen struggled mightily. It wasn’t a total loss though. His stuff needed refinement, but it had quality to it. The kind of quality that turns into a bunch of scoreless innings when someone figures out how to use it. And he reminded me of someone. In fact, when the season ended, I knew exactly who he reminded me of. Consider Lorenzen’s 2015 against this mystery player.
These players were the same age, pitched the exact same number of innings, and had strikingly similar velocity. They needed to strikeout more players and walk fewer. The numbers paint a picture of two very similar players. Player B? Ironically, it is Homer Bailey, the pitcher whose rotation spot Lorenzen took. This was Bailey’s 2009 season, his first extended look in the majors.
The similarities don’t end there. Just as Bailey learned a split-finger fastball in 2009 that helped him be more effective, Lorenzen armed himself late last season with a new cutter that has produced good results in 2016. He’s learning to pitch much in the same way Bailey did.
Bailey’s new pitch helped spur him on to an improved strikeout rate (21.5%), walk rate (8.6%), and xFIP (3.75) in 2010. From the pen this season, Lorenzen has seen drastic improvements in all three of those categories as well, though in a small sample size.
His progress isn’t solely from a new cutter or limited innings either. His stuff has developed all around. According to Fangraphs, his pitch values have improved almost across the board. Yes, we would expect his velocity to tick up in the bullpen, but his spin rate on his slider has also increased, something that could translate well to starting.
He also has a new mindset on the mound, which he credits as a big factor for his strong season to date. At times he looked tentative last year, which likely played a role in his elevated walk rate. With new confidence and better stuff, his command has gone from below average to impressive so far in 2016.
Lorenzen had great velocity as a starter last season; now, he has command of better secondary stuff. If the Reds didn’t have so many other starting pitching candidates, his return to the rotation would be a no brainer.
Lorenzen looked a lot like a young Homer Bailey last season, and that’s amazing considering Lorenzen made only 34 minor league starts before his debut and was 18 months removed from being a position player. As far as upside goes, he holds his own against the rest of his rotation competitors as just last year, Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus both had him as a top 100 prospect.
If Lorenzen stayed healthy during Spring Training, he likely would have started the year in the rotation and given the Reds an idea of whether he fit there long term or not. Now, they should at least give him a few starts this year to see how he looks going a few times through the lineup.
This isn’t hard to do. He’s already shown he can go three innings in relief. They could start him in the spot vacated by Cody Reed and let Lorenzen go four innings or around 60-70 pitches. Then, Keyvius Sampson could pitch two to three innings. The next time around, Lorenzen gets a little more rope. They could also do something similar with Brandon Finnegan who is close to reaching his innings limit.
The Reds need to take a second look at Michael Lorenzen: the starter. He has the stuff, the mental makeup, and the work ethic to do it effectively. As good as he’s pitched in the pen, the Reds should see what he can do over 6-8 innings a game instead of 1-2. If they end up liking some of the other prospects more, so be it, but they won’t know what they’ve got unless they give it a chance.