2016 Reds / 2017 Reds

The Case for Michael Lorenzen: Starting Pitcher

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.

lorenzen

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.

32 thoughts on “The Case for Michael Lorenzen: Starting Pitcher

  1. Finally someone on my wave length! Sometimes it takes a while with me:) I just see a big strong kid with a heavy sinking fastball that can pitch to contact and rack up innings! Think Kevin Brown except he can hit and run like the wind too!!

    If Iggy could start too then big Bob could throw some $$ at a few non-Badenhop/Majewski type relievers and we could possibly compete next year but that’s probably a pipe dream at this point.

  2. I like him as a starter from the get go.He just looks the part to me and his stuff is electric.He should get a shot in the spring but I have no problem if they do as you suggested and stretch him out the rest of this season.

  3. I have no argument with your position on Lorenzen. I see no reason to write off Straily though. If this year is what he is and he never improves then take it. He should remain in the rotation until one of the upside guys shows they are actually better. He is more than good enough to be in the rotation for a contending team.

    • His 4.98 xFIP suggests he isn’t nearly as good as the results he’s gotten this season. It would be shocking if the Reds don’t have a better option, but we will see.

  4. Great article. I like that you’re countering the narrative that Iglesias and Lorenzen simply by virtue of being injured precludes them from consideration for a starting role. In my opinion, they’ve got the makeup and repertoire to excel as starters. There’s nothing in the peripherals of Finnegan or Straily that suggests what little success they’ve had is sustainable. I’d go with:

    Bailey
    Disco
    (let the battle begin, with preferences to the first names given their track record and ceiling)
    Lorenzen
    Iglesias
    Reed
    Stephenson
    Straily
    Garrett
    Finnegan
    Lamb

    • I agree with everything you said. I’m very concerned about Finnegan as a starter. I think he could be pretty good, but I also think he has more question marks than some of the others.

  5. Yes I’ve always liked him as starter, big and athletic, strong arm, tons of potential, has come so far in such a short time as a starter, just a little more development and he’s there. See him as a Noah Syndergaard type pitcher.

    • I am all in with lorenzen as a starter. Stretch him a bit in September of need be. Lot of guys pushing their innings ceilings

  6. Excellent argument for Lorenzen as a starter. My guess he ends up as a dominant closer or 8th inning set up pitcher. Iglesias has a better chance to succeed as a starter but he has to prove he can pitch 7 innings every 5 days. Garrett and Stephenson might be legit but there are no guarantees. Hopefully at least one of them makes it. Lamb will not be in the picture. His stuff is not good enough. Reed has all the publicity but I can not remember the last phenom who went 0-6 and was generally bombed in 8 of his first 10 starts. He was not pitching in bad luck. If he was not walking someone he was getting seriously shelled. Disco is proving he is a good pitcher. Bailey looks good so far. If he can pitch effectively and stays healthy he could be tradable over the winter or mid season next year. Straily will be 4th or 5th starter assuming 3 of the other possibilities prove they belong. If not he moves up the ladder.

      • Yes, you are 100% correct. Giving up on Reed as a starter is short-sighted. He didn’t pitch well, and yet, you can see the stuff that made him such a good prospect. I’m a fan.

        The Reds have options for starting pitchers. They should have an open competition and that starts with getting guys like Stephenson, Garrett, and Lorenzen a few starts with the big club. Possibly even this year.

      • Well done response. I may be a bit hard on Reed but I was very disappointed in his command. That said, I hope he succeeds. He will have plenty of opportunity as the Reds and many others are very high on him. If he becomes Tom Glavine or any of the others you citedi the deal with KC will go down as one of the great trades in the long history of the Reds.

    • I beg to differ a little on Mr. Lamb!! Look how much muscle Iglesias has put on from 2 years ago! He wasn’t throwing 96-97 before! If Lamb works hard and puts on some muscle and got his fb back up to 93 then he could be a different pitcher! I would say a legitimate question could be though….he’s 25 now and has less muscle then a 14 year old football player so maybe his commitment can be questioned?

      • Bronson Arroyo was pretty effective with a sub-90’s fastball, and different body types carry muscle differently. Pitch speed is not necessarily about bulky muscles. It is about mechanics , as much as anything. I doubt that you’d find many NFL linebackers who could throw 100mph.

    • By next seasons trade deadline the Reds management needs to have a good idea of what they have in all of their young pitchers. If a viable rotation, and a couple bullpen pieces, be found from some combination of DeSclafani, Iglesias, Lorenzen, Reed, Stephenson, Finnegan, Lamb and Garrett then I would try to move Bailey at the 2017 trade deadline for a young corner outfielder. I’d then use the money saved to try to buy out some arbitration, and possibly free agent, years for some of the young guys.

      If no team is biting on Bailey then I’d offer up DeSclafani and see if the extra years of relatively inexpensive team control he has would be enough to get a young right-fielder in return.

  7. Put everyone on that list on J. Cueto’s training regimen and build them all up to be workhorses.

  8. Lorenzen in 113 ip last year threw 7 double-plays. This year he has 6 in 27 innings. Now he wasn’t nearly as bad last year as Reed was this year but they’re both very inexperienced and sort of rushed to the big leagues. Hopefully Reed will work as hard as Lorenzen did and they can both become good major league starters!

    As for Dan Straily….think many are selling him short! He’s only 27 and the guy can pitch! He picked up Rookie of the Year awards in the AL in 2013 for Oakland. Stats (and stuff) be damned with him…..in fact I though FIP meant your cat was sick:) He keeps the ball out of the middle of the plate and he keeps guys off-stride a little bit and away from the sweet spot of the bat. Will be in the rotation for the next Reds contender? Probably not…but I wouldn’t count on 5 guys being better then him in 2017. I think he can keep up 3.80-4.20 era type of production. Any older football fans remember QB Dave Krieg? He wasn’t a big guy and he had small hands and he fumbled a lot. He wasn’t particularly fast either but he won games and he could play the game of football! Dan Straily knows how to pitch and that has value. Plus if a guy like Straily loses it then it goes JJ Hoover-fast because there wasn’t any margin for error to begin with!

    • How fast is Hoover-fast? I did not consult Wikipedia, but I do expect that it says something like, “Hoover-fast is the ability to turn a three run lead into a two run deficit during the time it takes to get a sandwich and a drink from the fridge.”
      I agree, when Straily loses it everyone knows, but I think he knows how to pitch and generally maintains command and control. Last night gave everyone a great comparison of throwing hard versus pitching. Straily can compete, but he has to do so within his capabilities. Perhaps his future is elsewhere, but I’ve enjoyed watching him pitch.

  9. Indyredman: Couldn’t agree with you more. Maddox wasn’t that impressive so the Cubs traded him to the Braves and the rest is history. Straily has a feel for batters much like Maddox, he has to be in the rotation next year. The cream rises to the top or a bird in the hand are worth two in the bush. These young pitchers need to hit their spots(mainly the catcher’s target) or wait until Straily retires).

    • Check your stats on Maddux. He won the Cy Young award his last year (1992) with the Cubs, and I’m pretty sure he went free agent to the Braves. Maddux was third in the Cy Young at age 23 in 1989. He wasn’t really a soft-tosser, either, as a young guy, as he had 198 and 199 SOs in his last two years in Chicago.

      Straily is a far cheaper version of Mike Leake. As long as everybody else tries to get hard throwers, a few guys like Straily who have good command will thrive.

    • Maddux stopped struggling in 1987. During His last 5 years with the Cubs, he was always good and usually great.

      In the winter of 1992, he was one of the most sought after free agents in the history of baseball. The Braves signed him to one of the largest contracts in history at that time. The Cubs made every conceivable effort to sign him.

      Dan Straily has been a nice surprise. I hope he continues to do well. It would be fair to note that his BABIP this year is 60 points less than Randy Johnson’s career number. Luck doesn’t necessarily even out over the course of 1 baseball season…but it does ultimately even out. He could be a better pitcher next year and have numbers that are much worse as his BABIP reverts to the mean.

  10. I’m not sure the Reds are aware, yet, what they have in Straily. He gives off vibes that he’s in control on the mound.

  11. Starters are more valuable than relievers all else equal, and for that reason I hope you are right.

    The problem is not everyone has the pitch mix to be successful as a starter, but they can be very successful as relievers. I worry that Lorenzen is one of those guys.

    Your assessment that “his pitch values have improved almost across the board,” is seeing things about as rosily as possible.

    His fastball and curveball look better, but I’m wary of the curveball improvement because he hasn’t thrown many this year as a reliever and that brings sample size issues in. His cutter looks good also, but it’s essentially a new pitch, so I wouldn’t say it’s gotten better.

    Then there’s his slider which is getting hit more this year, and the fact that he has stopped throwing his change up altogether. Very, very few pitchers can start without a good offspeed offering.

    So what that looks like to me, as of right now, is a guy with the pitch mix to be a reliever (two types of fastball, and a good curveball if you give that pitch credit). He’s certainly got the build to be a starter, so maybe he can learn the pitches he needs to be effective 3 times through a lineup, but I don’t think he’s there yet.

    • I said that Fangraph’s pitch values rates most of his pitches as better this year and that his spin rate on his slider has increased, all good things.

      I didn’t say he was polished or done developing, just improved. I think your concerns are legitimate, but he’s shown enough stuff after being a starter in pro ball for only two seasons (at high levels) is enough for the Reds to take a good long look at him as a starter.

      We certainly aren’t talking about Cingrani who had a feel for one pitch and not much else. Lorenzen is far beyond that.

      • Yeah, I agree Nick, starter > reliever and if you’re not contending, there’s no issue with seeing what different players would do. I would definitely give him a shot at the rotation again next year, and any of the other pitchers that have a legitimate chance at making it as a starter.

        I also think that the Reds should just hire Mario Soto as a changeup coach, for all levels of their system.

    • Good point though….I’ve seen some of these guys like Jeurys Familia (Mets closer) and wondered why he isn’t starting! His fb drops 2 feet seemingly right in front of the plate and he could throw that 60% of the time with how devastating it is! If he had anything else that was average then he could be a #2 starter minimum! I think some guys just can’t dial it down to stretch out as a starter. Hopefully Lorenzen isn’t one of those but they most definitely need to try him and find out!!

  12. The fact that Lorenzen was never a starter at any level is to me the issue. He was an outfilfder and never made the body training changes that would lead to sustained high leverage pitching.

    • He did however start in the minors. He wasn’t ever a starter prior to pro ball however.

      • Lorenzen was recently quoted as saying he thought if the team chose to use him as a reliever he’d make a great MLB reliever. If they decided to use him as a starter he thought he would be a great MLB starter. Then he curiously (to me) added that he still thought he could be a great MLB outfielder if they would ever decide to us him that way.

        I think he is the type of guy who will pour his mind and body into whatever role they cast him into. However in his heart of hearts I suspect he hasn’t quite moved on from seeing himself as an OF who comes in to the mound to record the final 3 outs. That might indicate to leave well enough alone with him in the pen.

        • In an article this week from Mark Sheldon at MLB.com (linked in my article), Lorenzen said his preference is to be a starting pitcher. Says he thinks he can be “elite.” Doesn’t mean the Reds should listen to his preferences, but that’s what he stated he wants.

  13. I’m all for the best and most capable pitchers being in the rotation. If Lorenzen and Iggy can do it, the bullpen will sort itself out in another way.

  14. I think there’s some credence to this argument. I’ve always thought that if properly handled a lot more of these high upside arms could have been made into quality starters (Joba, Chapman, Cingrani even) Nowadays it seems to be the knee-jerk reaction when you have a starter with a great fastball but weak secondary stuff or spotty control to throw him in the pen. Just this year the Indians nearly gave up on the supremely talented Trevor Bauer as a starter! Don’t get me wrong, it is the right course of action for many of these guys, I think Nate Eovaldi is destined to be a late blooming power reliever for example. And maybe Lorenzen should be starting, its tough to say, given his limited track record in both fields. However, its clear to me that the guy who most needs to be in the pen is Finnegan. IMO, he’s an elite reliever waiting to happen, the Royals thought so, and the Reds did too going into the season. He’s said he does not want to relieve but his 2016 has exposed his inadequacies as a starter.

    Side note; Its interesting that the Reds have had so many guys like this; Cingrani, Chapman, Finnegan, Lorenzen and now Iglesias. Makes you wonder if the organizational philosophy is flawed in some way. Perhaps their evaluation process, or their handling of these young power arms and their workload etc is somehow problematic? Could be coincidence, but it just seems that while the league at large sees a few failed starters become relievers, the Reds seem to have a disproportionate number of those cases.

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