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5 Statcast facts about free-agent OF Cain

MLB.com

Eric Hosmer might be getting the most attention of the Royals' free agents, but Lorenzo Cain deserves his own fair share.

The 31-year-old center fielder, who was an integral part of Kansas City's 2015 World Series title, is drawing plenty of interest, and teams such as the Blue Jays, Mets and Giants have already been linked to Cain. Others like the Rangers, Mariners and Dodgers could become suitors.

Eric Hosmer might be getting the most attention of the Royals' free agents, but Lorenzo Cain deserves his own fair share.

The 31-year-old center fielder, who was an integral part of Kansas City's 2015 World Series title, is drawing plenty of interest, and teams such as the Blue Jays, Mets and Giants have already been linked to Cain. Others like the Rangers, Mariners and Dodgers could become suitors.

With Hot Stove season underway, MLB.com is taking a closer look at some of the biggest names available on the open market this offseason. Here are five reasons why any team would want to sign Cain.

Hot Stove Tracker

1. He's a premier defensive center fielder
During the 2017 season, Statcast™ released a new metric for outfield defense, Outs Above Average (OAA), which grades outfielders using a plus/minus system based on the catch probabilities of the balls they do or do not catch. Cain ranked fifth among all Major League outfielders with 15 OAA this season. That followed up on his 12 OAA in '16, which ranked ninth.

Cain made plenty of highlight-reel plays with 16 combined 4- and 5-Star catches in 2017, the most difficult kinds of plays Statcast™ classifies. A 4-Star catch has a Catch Probability of 26-50 percent, and a 5-Star catch has a catch probability of 25 percent or less. Cain's 16 total (one 5-Star, 14 4-Star) tied for sixth most among outfielders.

Video: KC@DET: Statcast™ measures Cain's four-star catch

Most Outs Above Average, MLB OF, 2017
1. Byron Buxton: 25
2. Ender Inciarte: 19
3-T. Mookie Betts: 16
3-T. Adam Engel: 16
5. Lorenzo Cain: 15

2. He's still got wheels
Cain, who turns 32 in April, spent all of last season flashing top-end speed. That wasn't just in the outfield. He stole 26 bases for the Royals, the third time in the past four years he has swiped at least 25 bags. (Injuries limited Cain to 103 games and 14 steals in 2016.) Sprint Speed from Statcast™ shows just how fast he was. Cain averaged a sprint speed of 29.1 feet per second when he went all-out on the basepaths in 2017, tied for 16th fastest among 451 qualified runners, putting him in the top 4 percent of Major Leaguers. MLB average sprint speed, for reference, is 27 ft./sec.; Cain was closer to the elite 30-plus ft./sec. territory occupied by the likes of Buxton and Billy Hamilton. Essentially, Cain was fast for any player -- but especially relative to his age group. Among players over 30, only Rajai Davis recorded a faster sprint speed this past season.

Video: CWS@KC: Cain takes second on wild pitch in 9th inning

Fastest average baserunning sprint speed, players over 30, 2017
1. Davis: 29.3 ft./sec.
2. Lorenzo Cain: 29.1 ft./sec.
3. Pedro Florimon: 28.9 ft./sec.
4-T. Jarrod Dyson: 28.8 ft./sec.
4-T. Jim Adduci: 28.8 ft./sec.
4-T. Gregor Blanco: 28.8 ft./sec.
4-T. Peter Bourjos: 28.8 ft./sec.

3. He reestablished himself as an offensive force
Cain struggled at the plate through his injury-marred 2016, just a year after he finished third in the American League MVP Award voting. Around hamstring and wrist injuries, he hit .287/.339/.408 with nine homers in his 103 games, giving him an OPS of .747. Cain's Weighted Runs Created Plus, an overall measure of offensive performance, was just 99 -- meaning he was just below a league-average hitter (league average is set to 100, with each point of difference representing 1 percent above or below average). But in '17, Cain bounced back. His slash line jumped to .300/.363/.440, his OPS increased to .803, and he homered 15 times to go along with his 26 steals. Cain's wRC+ was 115, a mark he had only topped in that '15 MVP finalist season.

Video: KC@CWS: Cain launches a solo homer to left field

4. He showed his best plate discipline yet
Cain's offensive success in 2017 was about more than just his home run-stolen base combination and ability to hit for average. His plate discipline was better than it had been in any of his other Major League seasons. Cain walked more and struck out less -- his strikeout rate was a career-low 15.5 percent and his walk rate was a career-high 8.4 percent. That helped him post his career-high .363 OBP. Making more contact and walking more often is a formula for success for a player like Cain because of his speed. He can beat out balls other players can't, and once he's on base, he can take extra bags.

5. He's thriving against pitchers' toughest stuff
With an increasing number of pitchers relying more heavily on their secondary stuff to get hitters out -- throwing their best pitch more often, even if that pitch isn't a fastball -- it's important for hitters to be able to handle those pitches. Often, "those pitches" are breaking balls: curves and sliders. But Cain has been steadily improving against breaking balls since he became a full-time player in 2013. His batting average against them has increased every year since then, and in '17 it was an impressive .320, sixth highest among the 200 hitters who had at least 100 at-bats decided on those pitches.

Cain's BA vs. breaking balls (curveballs/sliders), by season, since 2013
2017: .320
2016: .280
2015: .262
2014: .238
2013: .223

Highest BA vs. breaking balls, 2017
Min. 100 AB decided on breaking balls
1. Buster Posey: .364
2. Jose Altuve: .361
3. DJ LeMahieu: .347
4. Eduardo Nunez: .331
5. Carlos Santana: .321
6. Lorenzo Cain: .320

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Lorenzo Cain