For seven seasons with the Reds, right-hander Michael Lorenzen was utilized in rather unique fashion. The 29-year-old former No. 38 overall pick started 21 games as a rookie before settling in as a reliever. He also spent 96 innings in the outfield, 81 of them in center, and even played a handful of complete games as a center fielder down the stretch in 2019. He’s not Shohei Ohtani, but Lorenzen’s .233/.282/.429 batting line and seven career home runs in 147 plate appearances make him one of the game’s most productive pitchers with a bat in his hands.
At various points in his career, Lorenzen was set to audition for another opportunity in the Cincinnati rotation, but Spring Training injuries intervened. Now, as he sets out into the free-agent market, the 29-year-old righty hopes to sign with a club that will give him the chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, writes Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The 2021 season was a rough one for Lorenzen, who sustained a shoulder strain in Spring Training at a time when the Reds were planning to give him another chance at starting. As the right-hander explains to Nightengale, he suffered a Grade 3 hamstring strain while fielding a bunt against the Pirates on Aug. 8 — not long after returning from the shoulder injury. Rather than go on the injured list, Lorenzen somehow found a way to pitch through the injury down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a productive run, but with so many injuries elsewhere in the Cincinnati ’pen, Lorenzen gutted things out.
A look at Lorenzen’s 2021 numbers won’t generate much excitement. The right-hander finished out the year with a 5.59 ERA, a 16.8 percent strikeout rate, an 11.2 percent walk rate and a 44.8 percent grounder rate. The ERA is rather heavily skewed by Lorenzen’s final two appearances of the season, during which he yielded a combined eight runs in just 1 2/3 frames. Prior to that, he’d worked to a solid 3.62 ERA with an 18.9 percent strikeout rate and a 9.0 percent walk rate. Given that he was never (or only briefly) at full strength, it was a rather impressive showing up until that final pair of games.
Lorenzen figures to draw interest in a variety of roles, and plenty of teams will surely be more keen on plugging him into the bullpen than giving him a legitimate chance to start. From 2016-20, Lorenzen racked up 331 innings out of the Cincinnati bullpen and pitched to a cumulative 3.48 ERA with a 21.6 percent strikeout rate, nine percent walk rate and 44.8 percent ground-ball rate. He missed the first two and a half months of the ’16 season with an elbow strain and missed six weeks in ’18 with a shoulder strain, but Lorenzen still averaged 66 2/3 innings per season — and that’s including last year’s shortened schedule.
Given his track record in the ’pen, one would imagine that Lorenzen’s most-lucrative offers will be to pitch in relief next season. The right-hander tells Nightengale, however, that he’s “willing to bet on [himself]” in free agency this winter if the right situation comes along. Presumably, any starting opportunities would be on a low-cost deal with a fair bit of incentives — perhaps some based both on starting and relieving.
This year’s injury-marred results notwithstanding, Lorenzen has a strong track record in the bullpen, as many as six different pitches (headlined by a heater that averaged 96.9 mph in 2021), an excellent bat relative to other pitchers, and strong defensive skills in the outfield. Statcast pegged him in the 95th percentile in terms of sprint speed in 2017, and his 28.8 ft/sec speed in 2019 tied him for 68th among 564 big league position players. Beyond the raw speed, Statcast pegs him at +2 Outs Above Average as an outfielder, while Defensive Runs Saved has him at +1 in those 96 career innings. A rough 2021 showing will probably keep the price down, but he’ll be one of the more interesting buy-low options on the offseason market, regardless of what role he lands.