Making one’s major league debut has to be that much more daunting for a starting pitcher—not only are you facing the highest level of competition, but you have nowhere to hide if it’s just not your day. Every at-bat is an examination of one’s competence, every pitch is a step further on the tightrope. It can go from the most exciting moment of your young life to a real crap day in short order.

Yesterday, Michael Lorenzen battled through five innings of work and surrendered three runs on eight hits. At first glance, his outing was a mixed bag. On the positive side, he showed great stuff (a fastball that routinely came in between 94-95 MPH, flagging a little bit down to 93 come the fourth inning when he had already thrown 65 pitches, and a tight slider which lingered around 87 MPH most of the game), an aggressive pitching approach heavy on the heaters (62% of his pitches for the whole game, but 33 of his first 47 pitches were fastballs before mixing in the off-speed offerings more starting in the third), and four effective pitches in total, though his curveball was only thrown nine times (four of which were to pitcher Matt Garza).

On the other hand, if it sounded like the Brewers were hitting the ball hard off Lorenzen, they were. Here’s a fun chart to show what can happen when a major league lineup looks for fastballs and gets them:

Lorenzen FB

A lot of line drives, that’s what happens. Of the 15 fastballs the Brewers put in play, the tally goes three singles, three homers, three ground outs, two fly outs, and four line outs. Most of the damage occurred from pitches in the middle of the zone excepting Lind’s home run (which was below the strike zone and on the inner third). However, Lorenzen stuck to and executed his game plan to keep the ball low with all of his pitches:

Lorenzen pitches

Ideally, in future starts we’ll see Lorenzen work on the lower third and just off the corners, but for his major league debut that’s pretty much how you draw it up—keep the ball low and if you’re going to miss the zone, miss low. The other thing to keep an eye on in his next couple of outings is his usage of the curveball. Lorenzen just started throwing it last year and it complements his slider well, coming in around 80 MPH with heavy vertical break.

Really, all of his secondary pitches will determine if he can get comfortable in the rotation. After the first two innings to get his sea legs, Lorenzen was unafraid to throw any of his off-speed options either for the first pitch in an at-bat or during counts when the batter wasn’t ahead. His slider was the weapon of choice against righties—throwing it at least once in any situation—while his changeup was utilized heavily against lefties. If he demonstrates the confidence to work them in earlier in a game, Lorenzen should be able to keep hitters from sitting on his four-seamer.

It was never going to be an easy debut for Michael Lorenzen with Joey Votto having the day off, Devin Mesoraco still unable to play his natural position, and a Brewers team which already can’t afford to lose many more games facing him. Despite the end result, his first start displayed his exceptional ability but maybe moreso his focus and rapid maturation as a starter, particularly when he worked out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings. Now with the jitters and uncertainty of his first start out of the way, we can sit back and watch a young, talented pitcher learn and improve at the highest level.

48 Responses

  1. jdx19

    Kevin, do you expect Lorenzen to stick in the rotation for the foreseeable future or do you expect more roster shenanigans?

    • Kevin Michell

      I think it’s the right thing to stick with Lorenzen. There’s a lot to like about this first outing. Way more potential than the other options not named Iglesias.

      If there’s more roster moves in the future, they probably won’t happen until after Parra’s DL stint is completed (unless Mes starts catching again soon). Even then, I think/hope Lorenzen has this rotation slot unless he performs worse over his next few starts.

      • gaffer

        We will have to see what happens with his innings, he needs to be shut down at 120 innings.

      • Jeremy Forbes

        He threw 120.2 innings last year in AA, so I would be surprised if he only throws 120 this year.

  2. lwblogger2

    It literally did sound like they were hitting him hard when they hit him. Some of the outs were rather loud and included a couple at-em balls and a nice running catch by Hamilton in deep RCF. I told my dad pretty early that he needed to do something to keep them off his fastball because that’s what they were hitting. The slider looked good although he did wear out Tucker on a few of them.

    All in all, it wasn’t a great debut but it wasn’t bad. I don’t think he’s quite ready to be an MLB starter based on what I saw but the Reds feel differently. Learning at the MLB level is hard, just ask Homer Bailey. Yes, he’s older than Bailey was when he got his call up but he is actually less experienced as a pitcher. We’ll see how it goes. I like the young man and will be rooting for him every pitch like I do all our Reds.

    • Kevin Michell

      I caught about three innings at the ballpark yesterday and some of those hits sounded like bacon on a frying pan.

    • Dayton Ducks

      Yes I agree–not great but not bad. I guess that ultimately I rooting for anything other than complete disaster. I do have a positive feeling about Lorenzen…with all that’s happened in this young season, I need something to feel hopeful about!

  3. Keith

    What’s his pitch count been like in his Minor league starts? He obviously threw a lot of pitches yesterday, going to a lot of 3 ball counts. I attributed it to nerves, assuming he’d be able to go deeper into games as he settled down and didn’t go so deep into the count with every batter.

  4. Tom

    I believe Lorenzen is here to stay. He’s a keeper. A mixed bag his first game but I liked that he kept his composure and especially that he came through in the 4th and 5th innings after a lot of pitches. He was tested yesterday, and, in my view he passed big time. And I got to see it in person. If only we’d have given him some more run support.

  5. charlottencredsfan

    Kevin, nice summation with heat charts!

    I’ve seen a lot worse for a young man’s maiden voyage. We should get a good idea, what he offers, after the 4th or 5th start. Short term that is. Heck yes, keep him in the rotation.

    • Kevin Michell

      Thanks! I agree wholeheartedly- there’s been more talented pitchers with worse MLB debuts and less able ones who have had better. Bummer that it’s because of Homer’s misfortune, but I’m excited to see a lot more of Lorenzen with the big club.

  6. Jeffery Stroupe

    Roger Clemens gave up 11 hits in 5 innings in his debut. Dissecting Lorenzen’s first start is useless. His effort gave the Reds a chance to win. They have enough young pitching to help the club now. Rotation and bullpen. Period.

    • jdx19

      This is a baseball blog, dude. Dissecting Lorenzen’s performance is far from useless. It gives us stuff to talk about.

  7. Big56dog

    Is there any word if they are going with a strict 5 man rotation? They can skip his turn with the off day Monday and if they juggle things will only need a 5th starter 3 times in May. With the concerns over innings might move him to the bullpen and if it works out get him the starts or bring up Iglesias and swap those 2 out as the season dictates so they do not hit max innings before by July. Considering the Reds needs, I would think you want a decent arm in the pen as Lorenzen or Iglesias would be the top righty by default because of the current state.

  8. jdx19

    Sorry to do this, but since there is no other good place to post this, I’ll do it here!

    Decided to run xBABIP numbers against current BABIP for the 7 Reds regulars because, well, I’m a sick man.

    Format is as follows:
    Player: Career BABIP, 2015 BABIP, 2015 expected BABIP

    Votto: .355, .327, .376
    Cozart: .278, .300, .304
    Frazier: .290, .207, .284
    Bruce: .291, .200, .338
    Phillips: .292, .296, .349
    Hamilton: .304, .267, .305
    Byrd: .325, .204, .316

    xBABIP is given by the following:
    xBABIP = 0.392 + (LD% x 0.287709436) + ((GB% – (GB% * IFH%)) x -0.152 ) + ((FB% – (FB% x HR/FB%) – (FB% x IFFB%)) x -0.188) + ((IFFB% * FB%) x -0.835) + ((IFH% * GB%) x 0.500)

    The numbers in the parenthesis are the result of linear regression for each batted ball type against historical data (Note: Not my work)

    What can me make of all this mumbo-jumbo from the relatively small sample sizes we have? Well, not a ton, other than Bruce and Byrd have been quite unlucky in the early going, with Frazier somewhat unlucky. I’d say the rest of the guys are within expectations given the sample size.

    Most interesting to me was to see Marlon Byrd’s .325 career BABIP. That is extremely high and shows the quality of contact he’s made over his career. Notice how the rest of the non-Votto Reds are between .278 and .304. That’s about what you expect from normal players. .325 is quite high, and it is certainly a statistically significant sample size for Byrd. That’s been his true talent level over his career.

    Also interesting is how not a single Red is higher than their expected BABIP. Perhaps a shortcoming with the model, or perhaps in the early going every Red has suffered from not getting much good fortune with bloop hits or seeing-eye singles.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Go take a look at my boy Altuve. Does that kid have great stroke? Talk about staying on top of fastballs. Wow!! LD% rate is only ~16% but I rarely see him not hit a ball on the screws. Turning into one of my favorite hitters to watch.

      • jdx19

        I love Altuve. What a stud. There is certainly a reason why Housotn kept him when they were liquidating folks 2-3 years ago. Did you happen to catch the Jose Altuve special on MLB Network the other day? I missed it, but am going to try and see if they are re-airing it so I can record it.

      • jdx19

        Yep, his career .333 BABIP is good evidence that he’s hitting the ball on the screws pretty often. Looks like Altuve is benfiting from a little luck this year, as his batted ball profile isn’t as optimal as his career line.

        Career BABIP: .333
        2015 BABIP: .369
        2015 Expected: .302

        The only reason his expected is so low is because he’s hit a much larger amount of his fly balls in the infield (13.2%) than usual. Avoiding those, plus hitting line drives and having speed, is the key to a good BABIP!

      • charlottencredsfan

        2014: .360

        Maybe he is just a better hitter <2014? We will find out. I'll catch that special too. How much different are ground ball rockets versus "line-drives"??

    • tct

      Got any numbers on how GABP affects BABIP? There’s not a lot of room for hits to fall in the outfield. I know it decreases singles and doubles while increasing homers, so it would be interesting to see how the BABIP compares with the other parks.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Especially with Billy Hamilton playing CF. 🙂

      • jdx19

        Not directly, but included in FG’s park factor (written about recently by Nick Doran, can’t find the article) are weights for singles, doubles, triples, homers, etc. 100 is considered average, so 110 would be 10% above average. Here are GABP’s factors:

        Run Scoring: 101
        Singles: 99
        Doubles: 97
        Triples: 98
        Homers: 113

        So, yes! The numbers do show a decrease in the efficiency of balls in play in GABP.

      • jdx19

        Trying to bring this back to BABIP, we could surmise that GABP might supress BABIP by somethign like 1.25%, since singles are more likely and numerous than doubles or triples.

      • jdx19

        And for refernce, Coors Field:

        Run Scoring: 117
        Singles: 108
        Doubles: 109
        Triples: 126
        Homers: 116

    • big5ed

      Hey, I didn’t even know that Marlon Byrd had put a ball in play yet this year.

  9. Nick Carrington

    Nice work, Kevin.The results are less important than seeing the stuff. And the stuff looked awfully good for a guy who was mainly a position player in college. He is still learning to pitch and will get better.

    I just saw that he had the most swings and misses of any pitcher yesterday (18). Part of that is the Brewers. But part of that is excellent stuff. Excited about him.

    • jdx19

      Agreed. His speed of development should be considered a huge asset. Guys who can do that are usually fantastic athletes (which Lorenzen is) and very heady players (which Lorenzen seems to be).

    • charlottencredsfan

      Big time good stuff, Nick! Brighter days are ahead for Mr. Lorenzen.

    • ohiojimw

      I think Lorenzen’s experience near the top of NCAA is going to prove over time to help him get to where he can be than quicker than Homer’s rapid rise in the minors and OJT experience with the Reds did for Homer.

      • WVRedlegs

        That may be a big thing for Lorenzen. He was a CF/Closer in college. There is a lot less mileage on his pitching arm. That seems to be the new philosophy with the Reds is draft the low mileage college closer with more than two pitches and turn them into starters.

      • Silence Dogood

        I think you are spot on in your assessment. Lorenzen barely pitched at Fullerton and was therefore spared the typical abuse big-time college arms receive.

  10. PARED84

    Looked good to me considering how little he pitched in minors as starter.Like the no nonsense look and determination of he and Cisco out there.

  11. WVRedlegs

    Price has lauded Lorenzen for the way the baseball “explodes” out of his hand on his pitches. Could you guys that attended the game in person yesterday see it from where you were sitting?
    Is there that “special something” there?

    • lwblogger2

      Hard to tell from the Mezzenine. What I mostly look at are how hitters look against him. His slider had a couple guys badly fooled. His fastball generated some swings and misses even though it was also the ball that they seemed to square up most often.

    • Nick Doran

      I was at the game in very good seats with some other Redleg Nation writers. I saw Lorenzen throw many very good pitches that fooled batters. He also threw plenty of meatballs. He clearly has great stuff but is very inconsistent with it. You have to fool a batter three times to strike him out, but it only takes one mistake to give up a hard hit ball.

      I think Lorenzen has a bright future but he still needs a lot more practice to hone his arsenal into a major-league quality repertoire. He has all the tools and the talent but needs time to improve his craft. We should expect to see moments of brilliance mixed in with some big mistakes.

  12. cleveredsguy

    Awesome post Kevin! I just wanted to also point out (after seeing some of the comparisons of being less experienced than Homer Bailey while making his major league debut) that the key difference I saw was the ability to adjust mid-game. The knock on Bailey early on was that he wanted to pitch his way and didn’t really make adjustments mid-game. Lorenzen showed towards the end of his outing to change the way he pitched as he mixed in more off-speed and felt comfortable doing so. I think the ability to do that is just as key as having the stuff. Lorenzen should be good for years to come (especially if that curveball comes around) and hope he sticks in the rotation for the rest of this year.

  13. Jeremy Conley

    What I saw watching the game yesterday was a pitcher with a bright future who got the call too soon. The biggest issue was that none of his offspeed pitches were consistent, and he didn’t really seem to have a good sense of when to use his different pitches. The result was throwing too many straight fastballs in fastball counts when hitters were looking for them, which led to a lot of balls being hit hard.

    Pitcher’s develop consistency with their pitches with practice, and they learn when to use their pitches with experience.

    • I-71_Exile

      I agree on the off-speed pitches completely. Regarding pitch selection, aren’t the Reds catchers handling this part? AT this point in his career, Mr. Lorenzen should just be throwing whatever the catcher calls wherever he wants it. I suspect that the Reds know this. 🙂

      • Jeremy Conley

        That’s a good point. I guess the better way to put it is that he doesn’t know how to use his arsenal yet, and the Reds catchers might not know his stuff well enough to call the right pitches, so they just called a very predictable game.

      • I-71_Exile

        Yep. That’s a fair assessment. I’m just glad to hear about his poise and that he actually has an arsenal to work with. The future is bright!

  14. IndyRedMan

    I remember hearing how great Johnny Cueto’s changeup was in the minors but he relied on the heater too much in his few seasons. Its better to get beat up a little in the bigs then to beat AAA hitters with the fastball and never learn anything. This team has too many holes/injuries to compete anyway

  15. lwblogger2

    He swings the bat pretty well. I thought he looked better than Mike Leake even. Maybe not as good of a hitter as Baumgarner but he looks like a hitter.

    • jdx19

      My thought, as well. He looks to give real ABs, whereas Mike Leake is just a hacker that has good bat speed and a decent swing. I mean, 45.9% K rate last year, 0.0% BB percentage. After seeing Lorenzen in 1 game I’m comfortable saying he’s a much better hitter than Leake!

      • Delta-X-Ray468

        Well, Leake just hacked a dinger to the power alley at Turner Field…