Kansas City Royals: Have We Seen the Best of Lorenzo Cain?

Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6) reacts after scoring a run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 8th inning in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6) reacts after scoring a run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 8th inning in game six of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Lorenzo Cain went from a defensive specialist to an MVP candidate for the Kansas City Royals in 2015. Will he continue to ascend?

As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the projected starting lineup.

So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Wade Davis, Salvador PerezEric HosmerOmar Infante, Christian ColonMike MoustakasAlcides Escobar, and Alex Gordon.

Today, we will be looking at Lorenzo Cain

All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball

"2015 stats – .307/.361/.477, 16 HR, 72 RBI, 101 R, 28 SB, 129 wRC+, 6.6 fWAR2016 Steamer – .283/.334/.417, 11 HR, 63 RBI, 67 R, 23 SB, 104 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR"

Projected Role – Starting Center Fielder

2015 Results

2015 went a lot better for Lorenzo Cain than I projected. And I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

I first knew that I might have to eat my words when I saw this happen, just two games into the season.

I had never seen Lorenzo take a swing like that, let alone hit a baseball like that. That swing signified a boost in the one area Cain had never shown any major league life. He was going to hit for power in 2015. He finished second on the Royals, behind only Kendrys Morales, with a .477 SLG%, set career highs with 16 homers, 34 doubles, and six triples, and saw his ISO jump 61 points from 2014 to 2015.

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We also saw his other tools develop. He bumped his career high .301 batting average from 2014 to .307, despite a 33 point drop in BABIP, while also drawing 13 more walks and seeing his OBP balloon to .361. When he was on-base, Cain was wreaking havoc, tying a career high with 28 stolen bases and setting a career high with 6.2 base running runs above average.

While he was developing offensively, Cain remained elite in center field. His 16.3 defensive fWAR trailed only Kevin Kiermaier for tops in the AL, while ranking third in the league in Defensive Runs Saved, second in the league in Range Rating and Ultimate Zone Rating, and first in the leagues in Out Of Zone plays.

His play in 2015 was rewarded with his first career All-Star selection, starting in right field and driving in Albert Pujols with a double in the top of the 5th off of Clayton Kershaw. He also finished third in the AL MVP voting, behind Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout for the highest finish for a Royals player since George Brett placed second in 1985.

2016 Outlook

I’m going to play devil’s advocate again, and say that 2016 probably won’t look quite like 2015 for Cain. This is not because he was lucky or over-performed, but because he was just that good in 2016.

We saw a huge drop off in strikeouts and an improved walk rate from Cain in 2015, numbers that will likely trend back to his career norms, especially with the former. Cain came into 2015 striking out in 21.6% of his at-bats the previous three seasons, before drastically cutting that number down to 16.2%.

This can be attributed to an equally dramatic 5% bump in contact percentage from 2014 to 2015, spearheaded by an 11% jump in contact on balls out of the strike zone. Cain was well above average in contact rate in the zone (91% to 86% league average), but was also well above average in contact rate out of the zone (70% to 65% league average), which is more like to drop, seeing that he had averaged 59% over the previous three seasons.

With all that being said, Cain should still be a really good player in 2015. I would gauge him at a minimum 3-3.5 fWAR player, and that’s on the low side. Nothing indicates that Cain can’t be a 4-6 fWAR player once again in 2016. However, it is prudent to look at these other factors.

And I could be dead wrong. Again.

Cain doesn’t acquiesce to normal baseball thinking. Just his being a major league starter for three consecutive season defies all previous logic. While teammate Alex Gordon was deciding which college baseball powerhouse to attend, Cain was being cut from the basketball team, having never played baseball.

Three years later, Cain was hitting .307 and stealing 34 bases in A-ball. Even more amazingly, he was walking 58 times against professional pitching, despite less than three years of baseball experience. Due to that late start, Cain is still seemingly raw in places and developing, so the age curve might be a little off. Although he’s entering his age-30 season, his skill set is still improving, leaving room for betterment.

Next: Royals Not Bringing Back Rios Was A Good Decision

So who knows. Cain already flies in the face of baseball thinking, so maybe he’ll do it again and keep improving.

If he does, he might just make a legitimate run at the Kansas City Royals first MVP since 1980.