The Milwaukee Brewers clinched the National League Central division title for the third time in franchise history on Sunday afternoon. When the Brewers last secured a division title in 2018, Christian Yelich’s fantastic second half had the spotlight. However, Lorenzo Cain, the team’s other pivotal offseason acquisition, was right there with him.
While Yelich’s tear allowed him to run away with the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Cain was firmly in the conversation for the honor as well. He was arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league, racking up +20 Defensive Runs Saved in center field. At the plate, he posted a superb .395 on-base percentage and 125 wRC+ as the team’s primary leadoff hitter. He was also a plus baserunner, swiping 30 bags. According to Baseball-Reference, Cain’s 6.9 WAR was second in the NL to only Yelich’s 7.3.
Over the following two seasons, Cain came nowhere close to reaching his MVP-caliber performance from 2018. In 2019, he limped to an 83 wRC+ while playing through injuries. He subsequently opted out of the 2020 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Brewers maintained that they expected Cain to be a role player for them moving forward, but it was fair to question just how much he could help the team. His contract was starting to look like potential a detriment for the organization.
Cain’s performance this year should help to assuage those fears. Multiple trips to the injured list, including a two-month stint due to a hamstring injury, have limited him to just 74 games. However, the veteran has remained a valuable asset for those games. He has provided 2.1 WAR, which would put him on pace for over 4.5 WAR over a full season’s worth of playing time.
Age has done little to diminish the quality of Cain’s glove in center field. In just 570 innings, he has already compiled 5 Defensive Runs Saved, 5 Outs Above Average, and 2.4 Ultimate Zone Rating Runs (a pace of 9.2 per 150 games). Cain can still glide around the outfield and on the bases just as smoothly as he did in 2018. His average sprint speed of 28.6 feet per second is identical to what it was three years ago.
In addition to making the difficult plays look routine, the Gold Glover has made plenty of appearances on the highlight reels with some spectacular catches.
Cain has also enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence at the plate, slashing .257/.332/.400 for a 98 wRC+. When combined with his elite defense, that league-average line is more than enough to make him a quality player. His bat has been even better since returning from the injured list for good at the end of July. In 43 games, he has slashed .282/.340/.437 with five home runs.
Cain has taken on more of a supporting role this season, spending much of his time hitting near the bottom of the batting order. Most recently, he has assumed duties as the eighth hitter. He is no longer one of the first names associated with clutch hits in big situations; Willy Adames, Kolten Wong, and Avisail Garcia have taken care of business in those moments. However, Cain is quietly having a productive season despite the injury interruptions. A 2-WAR season fits comfortably in the range expected from a solid everyday player over a full season. Cain has reached that mark in under 100 games.
In particular, he has been especially valuable since returning from his hamstring injury. He has the fourth-highest wRC+ and is in the top five in WAR among the team’s regulars in that span. The Brewers will have to carefully monitor his playing time and health, but if Cain can continue to produce at this rate when healthy, his contract will go down as a worthwhile investment.
Cain might not be in the spotlight in the same way he was in 2018, but he undoubtedly played a role in helping this team secure a division title. He will continue to play a notable role as they chase the first World Series championship in franchise history.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant