When spring training was starting up in 2020 there were ideas of using Michael Lorenzen in a lot of creative ways. He’s got enough of a threat with the bat that he can be used as a pinch hitter. His defensive value is good enough to use him in the outfield, particularly late in games. When MLB changed the rules as to what qualified a player as a “2-way” player, they were set in a way that over the last 50 years only Shohei Ohtani would have qualified. That wouldn’t prevent a team from using someone that way, but just that they wouldn’t count that way for roster purposes.
But things today aren’t the same as they were in February. There’s been a whole lot that’s changed since then within baseball, but the biggest thing with regard to how the team will go about using Michael Lorenzen is that the National League will now have the designated hitter during the 2020 season. That takes away many pinch hitting opportunities. While there will still be some to make for a better match up against a reliever, for example, pinch hitting opportunities for pitchers who come up in the lineup will no longer exist.
I’m not entirely sure how many pinch hitting chances are lost due to this, but we can try to figure it out. In 2019 the American League used a pinch hitter 1367 times. The National League, however, used a pinch hitter 4303 times. National League teams used a pinch hitter 3.15 times as often as American League teams did. If we use the American League rate, which would be 0.56 pinch hitters used per game, that would lead to just 34 total pinch hitting opportunities in a 60-game season per team.
There are some reasons we need to potentially adjust that number, though, too. This year relievers must face a minimum of three batters. That could change the math a bit as you may choose to bring in lefty or righty pinch hitters a bit more because the other team can’t counter that move immediately like they would in the past. There’s also the fact that teams are probably going to use more pitchers per game this year. Between starters not being ready to go 5-6-7 innings out of the gate, to the urgency and quick hook potential because every game is more important in a short season – match ups could alter how you switch hitters in and out.
Still, even with all of that information, it’s very unlikely that teams are going to use a pinch hitter as often in 2020 as they did in 2019 from a National League perspective. That in itself likely dries up a bunch of pinch hitting chances for a guy like Michael Lorenzen.
But what about the designated hitter role? It’s certainly possible that he could get a few at-bats as the designated hitter in 2020. But the question should probably be more about whether he should. Michael Lorenzen is a good hitting pitcher. But he’s not really a good hitter when compared to your average Major League hitter. The Reds also have a million outfielders, and a first baseman who could probably use a day or two every so often as a designated hitter – all of whom should be expected to hit better than Lorenzen. And, of course, there’s the quote from manager David Bell Sunday, noting that the majority of the designated hitters this season for Cincinnati will be among the outfielders.
Then of course, there’s the part where Lorenzen himself doesn’t think he’s going to get any time at the designated hitter spot. “I know David will get creative, so we’ll have to see. We haven’t talked much about it. I’m still taking batting practice, I’m still shagging, still going to be doing all of the same stuff. We’ll see how it changes in that regard. I definitely don’t foresee myself DH’ing in any games. We just have too many stud bats, there’s no reason for me to be that. I’m just focused on coming in and pitching every single game and however else they need to use me, I’m fine with.”
When it comes to defense, this is an area that we could see Michael Lorenzen. He’s a good defender, and he’s had some limited experience there in the past with the Reds after spending his college career as a strong defensive center fielder at Cal State Fullerton (before coming in as their closer).
But perhaps the most important role, from a non-pitching standpoint, will be on the bases. In 2020 Major League Baseball is adapting the minor league rule where once a game reaches extra-innings there will be a baserunner placed on second base to begin the inning. That runner will either be the player who made the last out of the previous inning, or they can be replaced in the lineup by a pinch runner.
If Michael Lorenzen isn’t the fastest player on the team, he’s among the fastest. If and when a game does go to extra-innings, this is where Reds manager David Bell could really use Michael Lorenzen to his advantage. Think of it as a double-switch in a very untraditional way. If Lorenzen is available because he hasn’t yet pitched on the day, but is available to pitch, then you could just insert him into the pinch-running role, but also use him to pitch the following inning if there is one.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun to score the winning run all of the time, so that’s for sure,” said Lorenzen. “I’m excited about it. We’ll see what happens. You know I’m available for anything.”
In some ways, the usage pattern that was probably planned around a little bit during the offseason and even spring training has been crumpled up and tossed into the trash. But with what’s transpired from a rules standpoint since mid-March has also opened up a few new ways that the team could utilized Michael Lorenzen in 2020. It will be interesting to see how the organization goes about handling everything from a non-pitching standpoint.