When the Milwaukee Brewers signed a five-year deal in the off season, it was expected he would make an impact. But is he a legit MVP candidate?
The National League MVP race is wide open this year. Seven players have a WAR value over 4.5. Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain is among them. Should Cain get consideration as an MVP candidate?
What’s the case for Cain?
His offensive numbers are impressive. He owns a .311/.402/.439 slash line with 10 homers and 24 steals in 31 chances. He’s scored 72 times, and drive in 34 runs this year.
Those are solid numbers, but not MVP-worthy. How is Cain in the top-three in WAR in the National League?
That’s easy. He’s ranked among the best defenders in all of baseball. He’s racked up 10 assists from center field. His 9.5 dWAR is the third highest in the National League. 225 plays in the outfield are rated as ‘routine’ by FanGraphs. He’s made 100% of them.
Cain also passes the eye test in center field. From leaping grabs to diving catches, he’s been a highlight reel in center for the Milwaukee Brewers this year.
What will hold him back?
Voters tend to award gaudy offensive stats over impressive defense. Occasionally, voters honor a guy for his defense, but it’s usually a catcher or a middle infielder. Not a center fielder.
Cain also only has 10 homers. The last NL MVP to hit fewer than 20 homers was Barry Larkin in 1995. He posted a 5.3 WAR, and was arguably the second best player on his team that year. However, the Cincinnati Reds made it to the NLCS that year.
Cain will need the Milwaukee Brewers to have a similar playoff run if he wants to get serious consideration as an MVP candidate.
Several voters have a bias against players who play for teams who don’t make the playoffs. The thought process is that if a player is really valuable, won’t his team make the playoffs? It’s a flawed way of thinking, but it’s a bias that occurs during voting season.
Due to his limited power production and lack of name recognition, Cain is on the outside looking in at the MVP race. That doesn’t make his 2018 season any less special. Cain deserves consideration, but the field is so crowded that he may get lost in the shuffle. The impressive offensive stats from Matt Carpenter, the two-way play of Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt‘s power may influence voters more than Cain’s defense.