Michael Lorenzen’s Officially a Two-Way Player

A couple weeks ago, Zach Buchanan wrote an article with the following headline:

Can Michael Lorenzen be a two-way player?

Spring training is full of headlines that begin with words like “can” or “will” and that end with a question mark. The regular season is for settling. It’s still that early part of the regular season where people will watch a game between the Phillies and the Reds on purpose, and, because I was doing that, myself, let me give you an update, by switching some words and punctuation.

Michael Lorenzen can be a two-way player.

It’s happening. And I can say that because it happened.

Let me pause real quick to say, Michael Lorenzen probably deserves an article just because of his pitching. He’s a really good pitcher! Last year’s Reds bullpen had a terrible reputation, and that reputation was earned through months of hard but ugly work, yet Lorenzen emerged as a bright spot after he converted from the rotation. Lorenzen can get his fastball into the upper 90s. He has an effective cutter, and he blended an extreme ground-ball rate with the ability to strike out a hitter an inning. Lorenzen the reliever is 25 and talented, and he’s a reason for the Reds to be optimistic. Okay, now let’s move on.

Lorenzen pitched in the game on Monday. He pitched in the game on Wednesday, so he wasn’t available to pitch in the game on Thursday. For that reason, Lorenzen was hanging around in the Reds dugout. And now there’s something to understand about the Reds roster — for now, they’ve got just a four-man bench. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the pitching staff, so the staff itself is bloated, and the position-player side is limited in terms of its flexibility. Whatever. First month of a rebuilding season. In the fourth inning, against the Phillies, Scooter Gennett pinch-hit for Wandy Peralta. (Those are both Reds players.) Gennett got out. A run scored! There was plenty of game remaining.

We go to the bottom of the sixth. Tie game, 4-4. Zack Cozart led off and struck out. Then Stuart Turner grounded out. Up came the pitcher’s spot, with two out and none on. Not a great time to burn a good hitter. Not that the Reds even had a good hitter available. Anyway, the decision was made:

Up went Lorenzen, to face Adam Morgan. It’s extraordinarily rare for a pitcher to get a chance to pinch-hit. Last year there were just 42 plate appearances for pinch-hitting pitchers, and those events frequently happen in extra innings, when benches are at their thinnest. For a case like this, pinch-hitting pitchers generally have to have earned the look. And Lorenzen last year hit one home run — a memorable and deeply emotional home run that was probably the highlight of the Reds’ whole season. You can’t hit a homer without having some level of talent. Bryan Price made his call.

A few pitches into the at-bat, Lorenzen found himself ahead 2-and-0. He attempted what one might consider a mighty thwack:

It’s a vicious cut. One you might expect from an actual hitter! It didn’t work, but Morgan might’ve become immediately aware that Lorenzen wasn’t just some ordinary reliever who found himself in the wrong place. Morgan’s next pitch missed. Lorenzen took it. The count ran to a hitter-friendly 3-and-1, and Michael Lorenzen is a hitter.

The Reds ultimately won the game 7-4, and Morgan got the loss. That means Lorenzen had the game-winning RBI, when he drove himself in. According to the box score, the wind was blowing out to center pretty hard. I don’t think Lorenzen needed that extra boost.

The last home run by a pinch-hitting pitcher happened in 2009. There were a total of five such homers between 2002 and 2016 — three by Brooks Kieschnick, and two by Micah Owings. Kieschnick ran a 93 wRC+, and a 107 ERA-. Owings ran a 104 wRC+, and a 111 ERA-. Those two are considered the modern-day two-way players, pending the Christian Bethancourt outcome, but now we can see the particular appeal of Lorenzen — he’s a shutdown reliever who, over a small sample, has hit about as well as Brandon Phillips. He owns a power swing, and that swing has made contact about three-quarters of the time. It would be perfectly fair to call Lorenzen a bullpenning Madison Bumgarner.

This isn’t all coming out of nowhere. Lorenzen didn’t wake up one day and realize he could swing. In college, at Cal State Fullerton, he pitched and hit, and in his last year in 2013, he had the highest OPS on the roster, higher even than legitimate current A’s prospect Matt Chapman. Lorenzen likes to hit, and in the recent past, he’s been successful. He hasn’t had so many chances to hit as a professional, but you have to figure that’s going to change. You have to figure this home run is going to influence future decisions. Between 2015 – 2016, after all, Reds pinch-hitters had the worse combined OPS in the National League. They didn’t have a single pinch-hit home run all last year. Michael Lorenzen just did an uncommon thing.

It’s not like the Reds are going to tell Lorenzen to go play the field. That would be far too dangerous and far too stupid. He’s most valuable to them as a quality arm for important eighth and ninth innings. I just don’t know how Lorenzen doesn’t pick up more pinch-hitting — or regular-hitting — opportunities, given how thin that bench looks, and given what just happened. The stakes won’t even be that high, and I don’t know what there would be to lose. Lorenzen gives Price an extra toy, and although I get that managers always want to be conservative, the idea has been planted. It’s sprouting. Lorenzen got a chance to pinch-hit in the first place. That resulted in the very best possible outcome. So there are going to be more of these plate appearances, even if only on days when Lorenzen won’t pitch. (Update: and of course, Lorenzen could hit on days he *does* pitch, if his spot comes up! Hooray!)

Fans are always wondering who’ll be the next Owings, or who’ll be the next Kieschnick. Bethancourt has drawn attention for his attempt to learn how to pitch. Lorenzen already knows how to pitch, and he already knows how to hit. He’s not likely to ever field a position, but you can expect a lot more swings. The season’s just started, and Michael Lorenzen’s gotten even more lovable.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

If one wanted to have him pitch an inning and hit, I assume, because of warmups, that he would have to pitch first. Guess there are also situations where you don’t feel so bad leaving him in for two innings with the pitcher’s spot up between the two.

7 years ago
Reply to  Easyenough

To me the best part is that Price can put him in without having to double switch. So not only does he act as an effective pinch hitter and reliever, he allows Price to keep his regular guys in the game longer.

7 years ago
Reply to  StinkyPete

One AB does not make him an effective pinch hitter. Perhaps he is, but nobody knows at this point.

7 years ago
Reply to  RonnieDobbs

You are, of course, correct because the sample size is still very small, but it’s also not one PA small. He carries a 91 wRC+ in 47 PAs. If I recall correctly, the pinch hitting penalty is around 10% of wOBA, so we’re probably talking about something like an 82 wRC+ pinch hitting if the small sample numbers hold out to be true, I think? That’s not spectacular but there’s a hell of a lot of worse guys that that on major league benches right now.

7 years ago
Reply to  RonnieDobbs

Okay, but the number of players who have had big enough samples as pinch-hitters–ever–is like, what, five players?

7 years ago
Reply to  drewsylvania

The 20th guy on the list in career pinch hits (hits, not ABs or PAs, note, because I didn’t quickly find an easy way to get a top list for PAs) has 96, and he had 490 pinch hit PAs. With 19 guys above him and #1 having more than twice the number of hits, I’d be pretty comfortable calling those 20 guys the pool if it worked that way.

7 years ago
Reply to  Easyenough

You can also do what was just done, which is pinch hit him on any days hes unavailable to pitch.