As we all know, Lorenzo Cain came to the Brewers last season as part of a 5-year, $80M deal. He more than delivered in year one of that deal, posting a .395 OBP in the lead off spot along with the best defensive numbers of any outfielder in baseball. His ability to get on base faltered by quite a margin in 2019 (.325 OBP), but his defense, on the other hand, remained elite even as he battled injuries. Only Harrison Bader had a better defensive rating among outfielders according to Fangraphs.
LoCain set the stage in game one of the 2019 regular season. As you may remember, he robbed Jose Martinez of the St. Louis Cardinals of a game tying home run, demonstrating that only those voting for the Gold Glove are better at robbing major league players of something that should have been achieved. Slowed by injuries much of the season, the Brewers center fielder still patrolled the Milwaukee outfield with tremendous acumen.
While his defense may have taken just a slight drop due to injury, his offensive game was a grind for much of the season. LoCain’s slash line was .260/.325/.372. His fWAR dropped from 5.7 in 2018 to 1.5 in 2019. His numbers at the plate are what dropped him from a superstar to a role player this season.
Being the “table setter” in the leadoff position was Cain’s primary role for the starting lineup last season. He excelled at it in 2018 but failed in 2019, and he was demonstrably frustrated by his ineptness at the plate. His ultimate goal as leadoff hitter is to get on base at a very high clip, and a .325 OBP does not get it done.
LoCain had a dismal first half slashing .246/.309/.352. He was not on base often enough when Christian Yelich, Yasmani Grandal, Ryan Braun, and Mike Moustakas came to the plate. (I guess we could include Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar on that list, but they were not going to deliver either at that point in the season). A painful ankle, knee, thumb, and oblique all contributed to a down season, but when we dig just a little deeper, we do see some reason for optimism going into 2020.
Even with said injuries, the should-be Gold Glove center fielder seemed to tap into something that had him approaching his normal self. In August, LoCain was not hitting at a high level, but his OBP reached a respectable .349 due in large measure to a 10.8% walk rate. Once September rolled around, Cain was hitting much better. His slash for the month was .320/.363/.493. That type of offensive performance over an entire season, coupled with his defense, is what makes him an All-Star.
While Lorenzo Cain had a disappointing season likely by his own standards, he still played elite defense in center and by the time September rolled around, he began to hit. Injuries become more prevalent as one grows older, and he will turn 34 in April of next season. Craig Counsell might need to think about giving LoCain some of the Ryan Braun treatment regarding days off and playing time moving forward as was the case later this season. Even so, LoCain should still perform at a high level for the remainder of his contract barring those injuries. As always, Lorenzo Cain personified toughness and grit in 2019, and that was a transferable commodity on this team during this season. Recognizing that and his defensive prowess, the BCB community voted LoCain the #8 MVBrewer for the 2019 season.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs