Michael Lorenzen is an incredible athlete. We’ve all seen it in action both on and off of the field. On the field he’s a quality pitcher. At the plate he’s been far-and-away the best hitting pitcher in baseball. Off of the field, well, who can forget the workout video he posted four years ago?
Last season saw Michael Lorenzen do a little bit of everything for the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched out of the bullpen. He made three starts. His ERA was 3.11 on the season in his 81.0 innings. He his an absurd .290/.333/.710 with four home runs and a double in 34 plate appearances. At times he hit for himself, but he also was used a few times as a pinch hitter.
While there’s been talk for each of the last three years that Michael Lorenzen would potentially return to the starting rotation, it hasn’t really happened. And with the Cincinnati Reds going out and acquiring three new starting pitchers this offseason, it once again seems unlikely that it’s going to happen this year – at least to begin the season. But something happened last year in baseball. Shohei Ohtani went out to Los Angeles and both started and was used as a designated hitter. And he was quite successful in both roles – at least while his elbow was healthy enough to pitch.
The Cincinnati Reds don’t get to use the designated hitter too often, so they can’t exactly use Michael Lorenzen in that kind of role. Not utilizing his ability to hit, though, would seem like a bit of a waste. And it seems that the Reds understand that a little bit and have talked about ways to get him more time at the plate. Lorenzen seems to believe that he’s going to be used at times in the outfield this year.
The outfield is rather crowded as it is right now. The team is going to have to mix-and-match guys without accounting for Michael Lorenzen. Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and possibly Nick Senzel will join Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, and perhaps Phillip Ervin on the roster as outfielders. That also doesn’t account for Connor Joe, who may make the team as a Rule 5 draft pick and has some outfield experience, too.
The Reds and the Angels aren’t the only team that has ideas of trying to utilize a special player on the mound and at the plate. Two years ago the Tampa Bay Rays drafted Brendan McKay. The left-handed pitcher was also able to hit the cover off of the ball while in college. That led the Rays to the idea that he could be used both on the mound and at the plate. He was used on the mound, but also as a first baseman. They’ve announced that they have ended that plan earlier today.
It’s not that they are taking away using McKay at the plate, but they are taking him off of the field defensively. He’s only going to be used as a designated hitter and pitcher moving forward. At least in the short term. The article linked above notes that the Rays changed the defensive alignment for relay throws from the outfield when he was playing first base so he didn’t have to “make stressful throws” while in the field.
What’s interesting is that Tampa Bay has more than one two-way player. Tanner Dodson is actually the player that fits the Michael Lorenzen role a little more closely. He’s a center fielder and a reliever. And the Rays plan to keep him in the field. Last year was his first in the minors. He played in 58 games as an outfielder/designated hitter. He only pitched in nine games, though he threw 25.0 innings.
The Rays worked with Brendan McKay closely to monitor his workload last season. Obviously they wanted to minimize the risk of injury. We saw that with how they changed up their defense when he was in the field. But it was also just keeping him from being overworked. Particularly as a pitcher, that could lead to injury due to poor mechanics due to fatigue.
It’s easier to do this in the minor leagues. Rightly or wrongly, those games simply don’t matter from a win/loss perspective. Those games are for the development of the players, not for winning the Midwest League Championship. While it would be great to be able to both develop and win, development is always going to come first. At the Major League level, wins matter. And they matter a lot. While a team is never going to purposefully risk injury to a player at any level, it’s far easier to give a guy a few extra days off if they need it in the minor leagues than it is in the Major Leagues.
The Reds don’t have the ability to treat Michael Lorenzen like the Rays are able to treat Brendan McKay. Or Tanner Dodson for that matter. First, both of those guys can be used at the plate as a designated hitter both in the minors and majors. But they also need to be able to have him available to pitch five or six nights a week (while he won’t pitch that often, he should be available to pitch that many times in a given week).
All of this leaves open the question of just how can the team truly utilize Michael Lorenzen to his fullest abilities. Being a National League team they are severely limited versus how other teams are able to use players that have the ability to both hit and pitch. At least in 2019, how the outfield stacks up, it’s pretty tough to justify giving him a start out there even once a week.
The team could use him as a potential late-inning replacement in the field. But that makes you wonder: Do the Reds really want him to be out there trying to make a throw from the warning track? Is that worth the injury risk to a part of your bullpen in exchange for a single at-bat? I’d guess that the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.
Using him purely as a pinch hitter could certainly work. But on a given day, you’re going to have at least one of Matt Kemp, Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, or possibly even Nick Senzel on the bench that could also be used as a pinch hitter. Michael Lorenzen can hit as a pitcher. But it’s tough to argue that he’s a better option to than one of those guys in most scenarios to come off of the bench and hit. And in order to do that, he’s either going to also have to be ready to pitch the next inning, or be unavailable to pitch that day.
All of this leaves the Cincinnati Reds with a big dilemma. How exactly can they use Michael Lorenzen as both a hitter and as a pitcher? It’s tough to see a way for him to get any sort of real time at the plate. Being in the National League limits how much the team can really use him. The creativity is going to be tough to work with given the roster, and the fact that he’s a reliever. If he were a starter, he’d have days off where he’s not going to be expected to pitch. As a reliever, those days are few and far between.