Why Detroit Tigers see Michael Lorenzen as a starting pitcher with untapped potential

Detroit Free Press

A culture of development is a priority for the Detroit Tigers.

Under Scott Harris’ leadership as president of baseball operations, developing players — young and old, inexperienced and experienced — is at the center of the organization’s mission, now and in the future. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen, whose one-year, $8.5 million contract became official Tuesday afternoon, will be one of the first tests for Harris, manager A.J. Hinch, pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant pitching coach Robin Lund.

Both Harris and Lorenzen see a former reliever with untapped potential as a starter.

“He does a lot of the things that we value in this organization, but we think there’s more in there,” Harris said Tuesday. “We think he’s just scratching the surface as a starter. We think he can get better. I know Michael thinks he can get better.”

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Lorenzen, who turns 31 in early January, posted a 4.24 ERA with 44 walks and 85 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Angels last season. The eight-year MLB veteran took the mound for 18 starts and accumulated 97⅔ innings.

It was his first season as a starter since his rookie year in 2015.

“I learned about workload a ton,” Lorenzen said. “I knew it was going to be a learning curve of how much work to do in between starts, how much catch play to do and how much running to do. I took a lot from developing a better routine to be ready to take the ball every fifth day.”

An injury to Lorenzen’s right shoulder in early July forced him to miss nine weeks in the majors. He returned Sept. 9 and shined in his final five starts: 2-0 record, 2.36 ERA, 14 walks and 30 strikeouts across 26⅔ innings.

He went at least five innings in all five starts.

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Lorenzen credited a mechanical tweak, a refined pitch mix and a front-row seat to the Shohei Ohtani show for his end-of-season success. He raised his arm slot to a natural position in his return from the shoulder strain, which separated his four-seamer from his changeup, and created consistent slider movement.

During the final month, Lorenzen flashed his four-seamer and slider to right-handed hitters, and his four-seamer and changeup to left-handed hitters. He rarely used his sinker, curveball and cutter. His four-seamer averaged 94.6 mph with a high spin rate.

“I felt pretty consistent with my pitch shapes and making the ball do what I wanted it to do,” Lorenzen said, “but a lot of it was just picking the right pitch at the right time. … I took everything that I learned in the first half of the year and put it in play right there at the end.”

Harris and Lorenzen recently shared a long conversation about pitching, and Harris said their visions for the future aligned.

“I was struck by his passion for getting better,” Harris said. “He’s always looking for a way to get better. He’s always looking to make an adjustment to bring a little bit more performance out of him. That’s a mentality we want to have in the clubhouse all the time.”

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Lorenzen enamored the Tigers because of the various ways he can record outs. Last season, he ranked at or above the league average in several categories: first-pitch strike rate (62.3%), swing-and-miss rate (25.2%), chase rate (28.9%) and ground-ball rate (51.1%).

Opponents hit .154 with 30 strikeouts and a 38% swing-and-miss rate against his changeup last season. His slider, which opponents hit .169 and struck out 18 times against, had a 35.2% whiff rate.

Home runs have never been a problem for Lorenzen, but his 10.7% walk rate last season ranked 130th among 134 starting pitchers with at least 90 innings. Playing at spacious Comerica Park will help.

“That was one of Scott’s selling points,” Lorenzen said. “We’re hoping those three-run homers stay in this year. That’s a big deal. Nice and cold. Big ballpark. Doesn’t sound fun for hitters, so I want to be a part of it.”

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Lorenzen also possesses extensive experience as a pinch-hitter from his time in the National League from 2015-21 — slashing .223/.282/.429 with seven homers in 147 plate appearances — but didn’t swing the bat with the Angels in 2022. He hasn’t been a two-way player since 2019 with the Cincinnati Reds, when he played 89 innings in the outfield and pitched 83⅓ innings out of the bullpen.

“Michael is a double-plus athlete,” Harris said. “He can do some things on the mound that not very many other starting pitchers can do in our game. I think it helps him make adjustments more easily.”

Lorenzen is looking forward to an upcoming video conference with the Tigers’ pitching department. He wants to learn from the staff members, improve his game and evolve into an established starting pitcher in the big leagues.

It’s up to the Tigers to get him there.

“It’s a big deal,” Lorenzen said of the new leadership and coaching staff. “Baseball is in a spot where some organizations are a little behind and some organizations are leading the way. I think Detroit is going to get to the point where they’re leading the way. … For me, that’s exactly where I want to be.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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