The new year has seen something of a run on mid-rotation arms on the free agent market. Five free agent starters have signed multi-year deals guaranteeing between $28MM and $53MM over the past two weeks alone, and that has left few options for teams hoping to find a capable rotation piece without breaking the bank for a player like Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery. The market isn’t completely devoid of options of that caliber, however. One of the more interesting pieces remaining on the market is right-hander Michael Lorenzen.
Lorenzen began his career with the Reds back in 2015 as a starter, but the then-23-year-old struggled in the role with a brutal 5.40 ERA and matching 5.40 FIP. That difficult rookie season resulted in the righty spending the remainder of his time in Cincinnati has a reliever, while also dabbling in the outfield and as a pinch-hitter. Upon hitting the open market for the first time after the 2021 season, Lorenzen gave up his two-way role in order to return to the starting rotation full time with the Angels. The right-hander performed as a solid, back-end starter in his first season back in a starting role with a 4.24 ERA and 4.31 FIP, though he was limited to just 18 starts by a shoulder strain. Looking at his peripheral numbers, Lorenzen struggled with his command to a 10.5% walk rate during his return to starting in 2022, but struck out a respectable 20.7% of batters faced while generating grounders at an impressive 50.2% clip. That solid, back-end performance earned Lorenzen another shot at starting, this time as a member of the Tigers.
On the surface, Lorenzen’s 2023 season may not seem all that different from his 2022 campaign. While he managed 29 appearances (25 starts), his numbers were largely similar to those he posted the previous season: in his 153 innings of work split between Detroit and Philadelphia, Lorenzen managed a 4.18 ERA and 4.46 FIP that put him more or less in line with his performance as member of the Angels the year prior. Looking under the hood tells a different story, however. Lorenzen’s 18-start stint in Detroit prior to the trade saw the right-hander flash the upside of a solid, mid-rotation arm as he posted a 3.58 ERA with a 3.86 FIP in 105 2/3 innings. While his groundball rate dropped to 42.2% and his strikeout rate declined slightly to 19.9%, the right-hander made up for those declining peripherals by cutting his walk rate by nearly half to a 6.5% figure that was better than league average.
While Lorenzen’s stay in Philadelphia started with an impressive pair of starts that included a 124-pitch no-hitter and lowered his ERA on the season to just 3.23, his season took a tumble from there as he got shelled for 30 runs (27 earned) in 30 1/3 innings of work with a whopping 15 walks against just 18 strikeouts. That disastrous finish to Lorenzen’s 2023 season saw him bumped from the Phillies’ rotation and used sparingly during the club’s playoff run this year. While Lorenzen’s brutal final nine appearances last year can’t be entirely discounted, it should be noted that Lorenzen’s innings total of 153 was a career high, and the first time he reached even 100 innings of work in a season since his MLB debut back in 2015. That he was able to maintain his success through 122 2/3 innings of work across 20 starts before things began to unravel figures to lend hope to the possibility Lorenzen can return to that form in 2024 with more careful innings management.
In terms of potential suitors, the market has been entirely quiet regarding the 32-year-old this winter, though it’s easy to see plenty of speculative fits for his services. The Giants and Angels have both shown considerable interest in bolstering their starting pitching corps throughout the winter, though each may look to aim for more impactful additions than Lorenzen. Teams that hope to add to their rotation but figure to face budget crunches this winter, such as the Padres and Red Sox, could see Lorenzen, who MLBTR projected a guarantee of just $22MM over two years for, as a more financially palatable alternative to splurging for a top-of-the-market arm like Montgomery or Snell. The Orioles, Pirates, Rays, and Twins are among a host of other teams that stand to benefit from additional rotation depth and could see the veteran righty as a more affordable alternative to other options.