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Is It Legit? Michael Lorenzen, Yusei Kikuchi, Jeimer Candelario

What can we expect from these players going forward?

Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

Before the start of the 2023 season, I had a lengthy conversation with a fellow baseball aficionado about the surprising upside of Michael Lorenzen, who had just signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers.

I admit, it was a weird topic about a fringe fantasy player and I’m still not entirely sure how we landed there. Throughout the summer, Lorenzen has found himself bouncing on and off my teams as a favorite streaming option. Lately, he’s become far more than that and has cemented a permanent roster place (for now).

I’m in no rush to pat myself on the back too hard though. Nowhere in our pre-season discussion did we predict the kind of highs that Lorenzen has soared to over the past month. A no-hitter would’ve been a very bold prediction indeed. I just thought he was being overlooked as a viable arm to lock down the back of a rotation. I’m glad to see that he has been that and so much more.

But at the end of the day, how much of it is real? How should we react to this second-half breakout?

Is it legit?

 

Michael Lorenzen, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

 

Lorenzen had a shaky start to the season. There weren’t many fantasy managers paying attention at the time, but he was fantastic through five starts in May and pretty awful in April and June.

Lorenzen has started to put it all together since the All-Star break, going 4-1 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and a  27:12 K:BB ratio in 35 2/3 innings. You may have also heard that he threw a no-hitter in his second start after being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia.

Lorenzen relies heavily on an above-average four-seam fastball that he throws for strikes with a 29.6% CSW%. The pitch has middling velocity (94 mph average) but big horizontal movement and a .172 batting average against. He also has a slider that rates well but has been more inconsistent and an okay changeup that he pulls out against lefties.

Strikeouts have never exactly been Lorenzen’s thing with a career 7.58 K/9. His current surge certainly has not been driven by any improvement there with his 6.82 K/9 among the lowest in his nine seasons. He has, however, benefited from improved control. His 2.35 BB/9 is among the lowest of his career and almost half of last year.

Limiting hard contact has been Lorenzen’s best skill. At times in past years, he’s found himself among the league leaders in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. He also generally does well keeping the ball in the yard with a 12.2% HR:FB rate for his career and 8.9% this year.

Verdict: Not legit. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Lorenzen these past few weeks, his pace is not sustainable. Lorenzen has a pitch-to-contact profile that can often result in these kinds of runs when the control is in top form and the defense is on its game (not exactly something that Philadelphia is known for). Lorenzen is having success while a lot of his numbers trend in the wrong direction. His hard-hit rate (41.8%) and average exit velocity (89.8 mph) are below average while the strikeouts are down and the walks are actually up over 3 per nine. Lorenzen’s BABIP is a ridiculous .167. Expect Lorenzen’s ERA to trend closer to something over 4.00 or higher the rest of the way.

 

Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

 

Kikuchi has been largely overlooked in fantasy leagues, and that’s fine. It makes sense. The Toronto hurler has been awfully inconsistent in his career with bad stretches far outpacing his good ones.

Last year, he was 6-7 with a 5.19 ERA and 1.50 WHIP fueled by a complete inability to keep the ball inside the park. He was one of just two pitchers with 100+ IP last year with a HR/9 over 2 (Josiah Gray was the other). He was selling out for strikeouts, posting a career-best 11.09 K/9 while also running with a career-worst 5.19 BB/9 – by far the worst walk rate in the league.

Now in his fifth season, something has started to click for Kikuchi. Through August 15, he is 9-4 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 125 K in 122 1/3 innings. Since the All-Star break, Kikuchi has taken it up a notch, going 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA and a 29:8 K:BB ratio in 29 innings. He’s rostered in nearly 80% of leagues but that number should probably be closer to 100%.

His K-BB% is at 17.9% in the second half, which is a respectable number. That puts him in the upper half of the league and ahead of guys like Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Yu Darvish. That’s not bad for a notoriously walk-happy pitcher with a career K/9 below 9.

Kikuchi also seems to have solved his home run problem. He’s cut his HR/9 to 1.62 and his HR/FB ratio down to 16.5%. You’d like to see more improvement still, but it’s an area that pitchers have less control over compared to strikeout and walk rates. So, any improvement is encouraging. He has not allowed a single home run in five straight starts coming out of the All-Star break.

Verdict: Legit. No, Kikuchi is not going to maintain a 1.24 ERA for the rest of the second half, but this is definitely a pitcher who has turned a corner. His second-half gains are not luck. He has a .299 BABIP since the All-Star break and a 2.41 FIP. His 5.13 PLV this season is in the top quartile of the league. He’s averaging 95.2 mph on his four-seamer (the highest of his career) and his curveball has returned a 34.6% CSW. As long as he continues to keep the walks down and the ball in the park, Kikuchi can’t be overlooked anymore.

 

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Chicago Cubs

 

Candelario was an international free agent signing with the Cubs in 2010 but made just five appearances with the major league team before being traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2017. That relationship came to an end this offseason as Candelario was wooed by the Washington Nationals who then traded him right back to where he started in Chicago.

With the Tigers, Candelario showed occasional signs of growth. He had a 140 wRC+ in 2020 and his 42 doubles in 2021 led all players in the majors. Undoubtedly, 2022 was his worst year and made even Detroit’s meager offense want to cut ties. Last season he had a slash line of .217/.272/.361 with a negative WAR and 80 wRC+.

He has been on the rebound this season though and even more so since being traded back to the Cubs. Since the trade deadline, Candelario is slashing .425/.489/.625. He has just one home run in 11 games with the Cubs, but he has 17 on the season with a career-best .221 ISO, so expect at least a few more soon. His strikeout rate (20.7%) and walk rate (8.8%) are both better than the league average. His .365 wOBA is in the top 10% of the league.

Verdict: Semi-Legit. First the bad news: Candelario is hitting .347 against four-seam fastballs this season and he’s been seeing an increased amount of them since joining the Cubs. That’s fueled his recent surge. It’s not something we can expect to continue since pitchers will adjust. He’s not as strong against curveballs or sliders and his slumps this season often correspond with an increased percentage of those pitches.

Now the good news: Overall, Candelario is looking far more like the version we saw with the Tigers in 2020 and 2021 and his poor 2022 season looks like the outlier. He’s riding a .320 BABIP this season, which is something he has been able to maintain in previous years. Obviously, he will not hit over .400, but healthy plate discipline and a growing track record suggest he can be useful off your bench the rest of the way.

Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams. When not writing baseball, he is writing other sports things for a local paper in Michigan or drowning in parenthood.

One response to “Is It Legit? Michael Lorenzen, Yusei Kikuchi, Jeimer Candelario”

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