Since he opted out of the Brewers 2020 season, the last glimpse of Cain we had in 2019 did not match who he was in 2018. That raises the question, which Lorenzo Cain will we see in 2021?
Lorenzo Cain had a spectacular 2018 for the Brewers, a disappointing 2019, and opted out of 2020. Cain is entering his age-35 season, and despite his late start to baseball, he is starting to show signs of his age.
His defense is still elite. Outs Above Average has been around since 2017, and since then Cain has been in the 99th (18), 100th (21), and 99th (14) percentile every year from 2017 – 2019. And he finally took home his long deserved Gold Glove Award in 2019.
In 2019, Cain took a big step back offensively. His wRC+ dropped from 124 to 83, his fWAR dropped from 5.7 to 1.5 fWAR from 2018 to 2019. His BABIP also experienced a drop. After a BABIP of .357, it fell down to .301, which is far from his .339 career BABIP.
While league average for BABIP is typically .300, for players who have a higher BABIP over a long period of time, it can be expected they will continue to have a higher BABIP. The BABIP decrease led to Cain slashing (.260/.325/.372) in 2019. Despite that, his expected batting average, which factors in was .292, which was higher than in 2018 (.289), and put him in the 91st percentile.
Cain did walk less in 2019, his BB% fell to 8.0%, from 11.5% in 2018. 8.0% is still above his career average of 7.6%. Despite a decline in slugging percentage, Cain still hit the ball hard, hitting it harder than he did in 2018 (41.2% vs 40.5%).
Cain also saw his sprint speed decline, going from 28.6 ft/s to 27.8 ft/s, which is a decline from the 86th percentile to the 71st percentile. He also battled a knee injury, which may have impacted his season. Basically, despite the decline, he is still fast.
Especially after a season off, it remains tough to predict how Cain will perform. Depth Charts projects Cain to be worth 1.6 fWAR and slash (.263/.351/.388). Steamer projects the exact same slash line, but project he will be worth 1.7 fWAR. ZiPS is a little more optimistic, projecting Cain to be worth 2.3 fWAR, slashing (.276/.333/.386) in a rebound season.
David Stearns has made no secret that he will listen to trade offers for any player on the roster, and even a Gold Glove winner is no exception. A part of the 5-year contract signed in 2018 included a decreasing no-trade clause, which is down to 5 teams for the final two seasons. That means the remaining 25 teams could acquire him without his approval.
Cain’s $17 million salary for this season, and $18 million for next season, may make it difficult to find a trade partner for him, given the team’s desire to be payroll conscious.
Again, while predictive statistics are perfect in assessing current performance, they should not be held in as high esteem as the actual numbers. However, despite that, Cain’s struggles in 2019 appear to be an aberration. There is a natural decline expected with age, but for the seemingly severe drop off, a deeper dive into the numbers lessens the blow.
Success for the Brewers will rely on Cain, Yelich, and Hiura bouncing back. That will provide a formidable 1-2-3 punch atop their lineup. It may be expecting too much to expect Cain to return to 2018 form, but, the numbers indicate concerns over his decline may be greatly exaggerated.
A return of Cain to the clubhouse should also help provide some leadership for this Brewers off the field as much as his on the field impact would be.