As the 2016 regular season winds down, the Reds will face a litany of questions heading into the offseason. At the top of that list is determining what the starting rotation will look like and whether to use their two most talented pitchers — Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen — in starting roles.

That decision, of course, will boil down to the health of the two right-handers, as arm injuries forced them to pitch almost exclusively out of the bullpen this season. If it’s determined by team doctors that they can’t handle the workload of a full season of starting, the decision will be easy: leave them in the bullpen. And that certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Both pitchers have thrown the ball extremely well out of the ‘pen, bringing much-needed stability to a group that was reeling through the first two months of the season.

But if the pitchers show they can potentially handle starting, the Reds can’t afford to pigeonhole either one in the bullpen based on the success they’ve had there this year (though the argument can certainly be made that the duo would be better utilized as 100-inning relievers, as our friends at Red Reporter recently did). Most baseball fans realize that starters bring more value than relievers based on logging far more innings. With Iglesias and Lorenzen, it goes beyond that. If you make a list of the pitchers with the best pure stuff in the Reds organization, those two may be at the very top.

Lorenzen’s four-seam fastball averages 96 mph and has been clocked as high as 99, while his two-seamer, slider, and curveball all have nasty movement in their own right. Both of his fastballs both tail in to right-handers, while his breaking pitches get late, sharp movement. His curveball has been among the league’s best, averaging nearly eight inches of vertical movement, ranking among the likes of Felix Hernandez and Rich Hill. The movement on all of his pitches has helped him to a ridiculous 61.9 ground-ball percentage this season (his slider sits at 63 percent, while his two-seamer is over 70 percent). Most of his spin rates don’t jump off the page, except for his nasty slider, which averages 2,471 rpm, ranking 21st out of 132 pitchers who have thrown the ball 200 or more times.

While the strikeout numbers aren’t where you’d expect them to be for a pitcher with Lorenzen’s stuff (23.3 K%), he has, of course, seen the number go up as a reliever and has also improved his control tremendously in his second big-league season, dropping his walk rate from 11.1 percent to 6.3 percent. All of this has boiled down to a 2.45 ERA, 3.61 FIP, and 3.16 xFIP.

Iglesias, on the other hand, may not throw as hard on average (although he has cranked it up to 98 on occasion), but his stuff may be even better than Lorenzen. He comes at hitters from all different arm angles and boasts four pitches that all generate a ton of movement. The horizontal movement on his sinker, for example, is over nine inches as it tails toward the right-handed batter’s box. No other pitcher with more than 70 innings pitched has averaged more horizontal movement on the pitch. Additionally, the spin rates on Iglesias’ four-seam, sinker, and slider are all above league average, which has helped him to a plus whiff rate on each:


Interestingly, Iglesias still hasn’t been quite as good as he was last year when he pitched mostly as a starter. His 2.24 ERA and 3.30 FIP are improvements, but his xFIP (3.90) and SIERA (3.62) have both increased by a bit, which we can trace back to a slight dip in strikeouts, a slight rise in walks, and a slightly below average home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.

In some ways, the situations of Iglesias and Lorenzen are comparable to that of Aroldis Chapman. The circumstances that sent Chapman to the bullpen were different, of course. Rather than being forced in a relief role due to injury, he was moved there out of necessity, as the Reds were a competitive team and needed help in the bullpen. Once the Cuban Missile had success in the ‘pen, the organization never gave him an opportunity to start again. Things still worked out for Chapman and the team as he became the most dominant closer in baseball, but it’s hard not to wonder what he could’ve done in a starting role.

The club has a chance to make a different choice with Iglesias and Lorenzen, though. They’ve both been incredibly successful in the bullpen, but they could be great starters. If health or performance keeps that from happening, there’s nothing wrong with that. But both pitchers should at least get an opportunity to show they can hold up in a starting role and truly maximize their potential.

30 Responses

  1. CI3J

    The way forward for the Reds is simple: The 5 best guys for the job should start (this means stuff as well as ability to handle the workload) and anyone who doesn’t make it either goes to the ‘pen, goes to AAA to be the first option called up when injury hits, or gets traded for other organizational depth.

    So that’s to say I agree with this article. If Lorenzen and Iggy CAN start, they SHOULD start, but not if it risks injury to them again. I’d rather have 100 innings out of those 2 from the ‘pen then have them on the shelf all year because their arms couldn’t handle starting.

    • Matt Wilkes

      Exactly. The Reds just shouldn’t fall in love with them in the bullpen based on this year’s performance and not give them a chance to start again. If they can’t handle a starter’s innings, that’s a different story.

  2. Nick Carrington

    Nice article, Matt. Love the spin rate and vertical movement data.

    I don’t get the worry about Lorenzen’s health. The elbow was categorized as a mild strain and was better by late April. He would have been back by early May or so if not for mono, which caused him to lose 20 pounds. Maybe it’s more than that, but that’s what was reported.

    I think CI3J is right: The five best guys should start. They don’t have to give up on the 100 inning reliever idea if Lorenzen and Iglesias are in the rotation.They have lots of good arms that could pitch 100-120 innings out of the pen. If Finnegan can’t improve his command substantially, he would be great in that role. Same with Stephenson.

    Keep in mind that the Reds could have one or two of their young pitchers pitching 2-3 innings of relief and transition them to the rotation fairly easily if an injury occurs.

    • ohiojimw

      Maybe the deal with ML’s elbow is that it was “mild” (fortunately) when discovered but they found reason to believe that a starting pitcher’s load and pitch mix would lead to it becoming chronic and eventually perhaps breaking down. Perhaps not really a different situation than Iglesias and before him Cingrani except that it involves the elbow instead of the shoulder.

      • Nick Carrington

        Maybe, but we externally have no evidence of that. They’ve been open about concerns with Iglesias. Why would they hide that thought with Lorenzen?

      • WVRedlegs

        But Nick, there is a little bit of evidence out there. Lorenzen had a platelet-rich-plasma therapy shot, at least one that we heard about, to his elbow this past April. They don’t use that therapy on a “mild strain”. That is mostly used to help speed up tissue mending. Maybe what was “mild” was a tear of something.

      • Nick Carrington

        I believe you, WV. I really do. I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around this being a big deal when it was reported as “a mild sprain,” and on April 7th, the elbow appeared fine:

        He was throwing by mid April. I’m not saying there isn’t more there, but I find it strange that they would mislead with a classification, and I think it’s weird that he was fine after 3-4 weeks and throwing again if it was such a concern.

        The evidence suggests to me that it wasn’t a big deal. But, I understand with arm injuries, it’s kind of always a big deal.

      • ohiojimw

        Iglesias was much more of a known quantity. Cuba was using him as a reliever. The Reds were apparently the only MLB org that saw him as a starter. It is probably a fair guess Iggy’s handlers had put together some sort of medical package which was seen by any and every team that wished to see it (and may have helped influence their assessments). Add in that $30M is sunk in him; and, there is little reason to try and play coy as he’s going to have to produce to that value level before the Reds could ever hope to leverage him in a deal. Plus if he ever went back into the pen permanently, some sort of explanation would have been expected anyway.

        Lorenzen on the other hand is younger and less exposed. Whatever medical records may exist concerning him are likely buried deep under HIPPA coverage at CS Fullerton. As far as has ever come out no other MLB org was even looking at him as a pitcher; so, they wouldn’t have been digging for info on his arm. Put him back into the role he thrived at in college; and if he succeeds and the elbow is never an issue, it will be forgotten about.

  3. cfd3000

    I agree with all of this, though I’m less optimistic about Iglesias’ durability than Lorenzen’s. And I would prefer to see six starters stretched out and ready at any given time, with the sixth man rotated into starts on a recurring and intentional basis to give the other five an occasional break and to keep him ready in case of injury. Logistically it’s tricky but injuries will happen and many starters next year are likely to be on some kind of innings limit. But regardless, Iggy, Lorenzen, and Stephenson and Sampson should all get a good look at starting in 2017, with Reed, Garrett and a couple more further down the pipeline getting the same consideration within the next year or so. Straily is a nice insurance policy to eat some reasonably good innings but he’s not the future of the starting staff. The best six (or at least five) of Bailey, Finnegan, Stephenson, Iglesias, Lorenzen, Sampson, Reed, Garrett, Romano, Travieso, Davis and maybe one or two more (I don’t think Lamb makes this list) should be very very good.

  4. WVRedlegs

    Iglesias and Lorenzen will make whichever unit they are on much better. They rescued a horrible bullpen to make it somewhat respectable. Put 5 new decent relievers around these 2 and watch it take off. They would do the same for the rotation in 2017, if their health allows for it. DeSclafani, Finnegan, these two and Bailey could make for a respectable rotation next year. Straily is there if one falters. And Straily could be one of those 2 inning relievers too.
    However, I get the feeling that the rope given to both to be starters will be shorter for Lorenzen than it will be for Iglesias.

  5. IndyRedMan

    Lorenzen to start and bat in the middle of the lineup! Pitch 7 innings and give up 2-3 runs and produce 1 with the bat. We would win many more then we’d lose with him. Did Babe Ruth bat 9th when he pitched for Boston? Its not a rule that they bat 8th or 9th! This kid can swing the bat! They should also use Lorenzen as a pinch-hitter. You could watch every atbat of DeJesus and Holt’s career and you won’t see them hitting a bomb 10 rows deep to right-center! His groundball % and ability to generate quick outs gives Lorenzen a real chance to succeed as a starter! Iglesias is of slighter frame and likes being a reliever. Leaving him in the pen also saves him from teams just stacking all their lefties against him. Price can pick and choose his spots with him!

    Disco, Lorenzen, Homer, Straily, and Finnegan would make up my rotation and if Reed, Bob Steve, Garrett, etc break thru then so be it! I’d make Lamb my lefty specialist/long man with that curveball! If they could sign a high leverage reliever to replace Lorenzen’s role next year then they could be competitive. If the young hitters improve anyway?

  6. Tom Mitsoff

    One big question here: How in the heck are the doctors going to be able to make any meaningful determination on durability during the off-season? Iglesias was on a shoulder strengthening plan over last winter, and it apparently didn’t have the effect expected, since his shoulder acted up again early this season.

    I completely agree that if they can handle starting health-wise, both should be in the rotation. But unfortunately, I think the only reliable way to know that is if and when they hurt their arms again as starters next spring.

    Put those two in the rotation with DeSclafani and a (hopefully) healthy Bailey, and you have the potential for a very good starting staff. Let the other seven to 10 hopefuls battle it out for the fifth spot in the spring.

    Bullpen? Still ugly under this scenario. But it’s not all going to be fixed this off-season anyway.

  7. ohiojimw

    If the current rebuild cycle is to produce anything close to the hoped for results, there needs to be much less focus on Disco, Bailey, even Iggy and Lorenzen and much more focus on Stephenson, Garrett, Reed, the crew that were at AA Pensacola this year., and also maybe the that latest Cuban guy they signed.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      While I am hoping that all of the Double A and Triple A hopeful pitchers are going to be reliable major league starters, the chances of that happening for the Reds or any team are next to zero. Injuries occur, and many players don’t meet the expectations that scouts and observers place on them.

      The rebuild has to be focused on allowing players to develop to their fullest potential in the minors, and for the most part it was this year. Reed is a classic example of a guy who pitched great in the minors and just wasn’t ready for the bigs. Will he ever be? We all hope so, but there is no guarantee.

      I certainly am not sold on Stephenson being a lock to be a stud starter. I haven’t seen Garrett, so I can’t offer an informed opinion. The Cuban kid is probably two to three years away. If you have a major league starting staff of Iglesias, Lorenzen, DeSclafani and Bailey healthy and pitching effectively as we have seen in the past, then you force your minor leaguers to earn their way to the bigs, as opposed to what happened this year (in many cases due to injury, obviously).

    • Playtowin

      So far both Reed and Stephenson look over rated.

  8. ScottyA

    I see us being able to trade someone or a few players at the trade deadline to set us up either for a run at the wildcard in 17′ (not likely) or a run at the playoffs in 18′, 19′ etc. Not sure how this all plays out. I definitely would like to see Iglesias, desclafani, bailey, lorenzen & Finnegan rotation (if their arms can handle it). I really believe this rotation would be good enough to make the playoffs, if all stay healthy and their arms can handle to load of a starter.

    From what I’ve seen of amir garret (very little) I believe he might be best suited as our closer. Even Stephenson so far looks like that may be a possibility, not what we want or need to happen, but possible.

    If just one of the three, garrett, Stephenson, reed pan out as a starter I believe where in good shape. Keep straily as a number 5 starter/ long relief guy also.

  9. William E Lack

    The distinct impression I got at the Q&A was the Lorenzen seemed pretty a done deal (bullpen), but Iglesias was still TBD…

    • CI3J

      If the team is set on a “closer”, Lorenzen could probably fill that role. You just have to hope the idea of the “closer” is brought in late in the game to face the toughest hitters, not just brought in for 3 outs in the 9th… But that’s another debate for another thread.

      • Michael E

        ugh, closer is a curse word to me. It means the lowest usage in the pen of probably the best arm or stuff. Counter-intuitive and yet the herd of managers KEEPS doing that. Props to the few that use their best pitchers MORE often and keep them in for MORE than 1 hitter or more than 1 inning. These managers should be revered and the herd should be slaughtered (figuratively of course).

      • Carl Sayre

        The brighter young people in the Nation have convinced me CLOSER is foul language this is more so for Lorenzen his live arm combined with the fact he understands what that tree limb is for I would hate to see him get stuck. I understand he is a pitcher but as well as he hits it is like having a 26 man roster when you don’t have to double switch or pull him after an easy inning because his spot is coming up. The idea situation is his arm be healthy enough to be a starter and it would be close to having a DH in NL parks.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I got the same impression at the Q&A: Lorenzen was likely slotted for the bullpen. I was wondering if I just imagined it or if it was actually said.

  10. Nick Carrington

    I’m spending way too much time on here today, but I thought this was an interesting addition to this discussion. From Zach Buchanan at the Enquirer on Iglesias and Lorenzen starting:

    “Any discussion about Iglesias’ future role will take into account his history of shoulder problems, but the health issues are in the past for Lorenzen. The debate will be about where he can be most effective, not what his body can handle.”

    Full link here:

    It seems that if Lorenzen does remain in the bullpen, it will be because the Reds think he best fits there and not because of health reasons.

    • citizen54

      Seems kind of shortsighted for the Reds to pigeonhole him to the bullpen after only giving him one shot at the rotation last year. I say give him a couple starts in the few games that are remaining and then go from there. No reason to steadfastly hold to this ‘Lorenzen is our closer’ mindset.

  11. IndyRedMan

    Just for fun I did a little checking on advanced pitching stats:

    Lorenzen 2016 = 14.6 pitches per inning
    Iglesias 2016 = 15.9
    Disco 2016 = 16.0
    Straily 16.1
    Homer’s 2 best years 2012-13 = 16.0 and 15.8

    Jake Arrieta 2016 = 15.8
    Johnny Cueto 2016 = 15.0

    Yes its only 44 innings from Lorenzen but he’s been more efficient then the best of the NL! Plus he brings athleticism and a bat as a starter! They’d be crazy to not atleast try him!

  12. Michael E

    IF coaches actually used them as 100+ inning relievers, I’d be okay with that, but even relievers are getting babied. Rarely two days in a row if more than 1 inning pitched. Rarely 3+ innings, except out of pure necessity (starter fails to go 3 innings), etc.

    120 inning relievers would be very valuable if they’re putting up above average numbers. I just don’t trust 95% of today’s managers to use them enough to justify it, thus wasting talent on another low-usage project.

    The best stuff on the staff needs to be used as often and as long as possible. 250+ innings for aces, 120+ inning for top tier relievers. Never put your best pitcher as closer and never put the best 3+ pitch stuff as reliever, unless you are left with no choice at all.

  13. lwblogger2

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate a little bit about the stats used here. We need to see what the spin-rates and especially the velocities look like when these guys aren’t coming out of the bullpen. To me, it seems that Iglesias loses at least 2 ticks off his fastball as a starter. I’m wondering if the spin rate also changes significantly. He is also forced to throw his change more as a starting pitcher, although he seems to deploy it as a reliever sometimes. That’s not to mean that I don’t think he can start because he’s certainly proven he can be an effective starting pitcher. I was most excited about him starting this year after his strong 2015. It really does come down to his shoulder.

    As for Lorenzen, his velocity seems much, much better out of the pen. I don’t think we’ll see 96 and certainly not 99 from him as a starting pitcher and I don’t think we’ll see the same movement on his pitches. That said, the cutter that he developed has made him more pitch efficient and that bodes well to starting. He also seems to have improved his command dramatically, which is also a great sign. I’m not real sure about his 3rd pitch though as his slider is hard. He will need to use his change or curve more to be an effective starting pitcher. As for his durability, assuming his arm is healthy, Lorenzen just looks like a starting pitcher. There is no doubt in my mind that if his arm can take it, the rest of his body will be able to. That said, I’d hate to see the Reds resigned to not letting him try starting. They can always move him back to the pen if he fails, assuming he doesn’t get injured.

    • Matt Wilkes

      That’s a totally fair point. Their velocity would certainly go down as starters and I wouldn’t be shocked if spin rate did either.

      • lwblogger2

        To be clear Matt, I agree that health permitting, they should be given a chance to start. It’s not like the Reds are going pennant hunting in 2017. They need to see if these guys can be starters and if so, how good.

  14. Carl Sayre

    I really enjoyed the article and it was very informative which is my way of saying Mr. Wilkes if you want to be a MLB beat writer you are going to have to dumb down your writing sir. There is no place in MLB for intelligent beat writers or there hasn’t been so far.