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Season in review: Lorenzo Cain

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The center fielder finally stayed healthy for the whole season.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I'm going around the diamond, which means that Lorenzo Cain is up next for the season in review series. We've known for awhile that Cain's glove is legit, and last season the bat came with the glove. Cain managed a 111 wRC+ in a season during which he was often rested in order to stay healthy. Cain amassed 4.9 fWAR in 502 PA for a 5.9 fWAR/600 PA rate. That's pretty awesome. Cain should have won the gold glove award for both center field and right field, but naturally he didn't because of blah reasons.

I don't need to talk much about his defense. He saved 24 runs by DRS and was 17.6 runs above average in UZR. Only Alex Gordon, Juan Lagares, and Jason Heyward ranked above Cain in the OF in DRS. Cain ranked 8th in UZR. Cain is really good at catching balls. Hark, lo, observe, watch, marvel, and don't forget to breathe.

The dude was on top of his game in the playoffs. Some of the highlights I didn't show were those he made look easy but in reality were probably really difficult plays.

Let's talk about his offense. I'll show you his K%, BB%, batted ball rates, and batted ball production relative to league average. Again, 100 is average, greater than 100 means he did more of the thing, and less than 100 means he did less of the thing.

Season Rel K Rel BB
2012 116 76
2013 103 95
2014 105 63

Cain strikes out a bit more than league average. He walks less than league average. His walk rate was especially bad in 2014. That means he has a pretty low floor for offensive performance, and he has to rely on contact for his production. Cain did well in that regard in 2014. Here are his batted ball rates.

Season Rel LD Rel GB Rel FB Rel IFFB Rel HR/FB
2012 104 104 92 113 117
2013 103 111 84 159 42
2014 110 114 76 66 56

He hits more line drives and ground balls than league average, and his ground ball rate is trending upward. That's a foundation for a high BABIP. Cain hit a lot of ground balls and line drives in 2014, which helps explain his absurd .380 BABIP. This really isn't a bad thing. Here is Cain's production by batted ball type relative to the league. Rel PRD is calculated by (1.7*BA+SLG)/(1.7*lgBA+lgSLG).

Season Rel FB PRD Rel LD PRD Rel GB PRD
2012 104 100 127
2013 75 90 120
2014 99 106 135

So Cain actually had one bad season of fly ball production, but he was average in that regard in 2014. Note his ground ball production; focusing on ground balls is a solid decision. Cain has a talent for producing way better than league average on ground balls. Because of his speed, Cain had a ridiculous batting average on ground balls in 2014: .317. The league average batting average on ground balls in 2014 was .239. Heck, Cain even slugged .355 on ground balls in 2014, which is completely stupid. Hitting lots of ground balls helps Cain's on base percentage. It hurts his slugging, but Cain can do more damage on the bases once he is there, and grounders get him on base more often than fly balls do. I'll take the tradeoff.

Basically, Cain's .380 BABIP is explained by a slight spike in GB batting average, regressing above the mean on line drive and fly ball batting averages after a poor 2013 season in those areas, and allocating more of his batted balls to ground balls over fly balls. Cain's infield hit rate is up there with the best. As long as Cain's speed remains intact, he probably has the true talent ability to run something like his career .345 BABIP.

Despite poor strikeout and walk rates, Cain has a pretty optimal batted ball distribution given his skills. This adds up to roughly a league average bat. Combined with an elite glove, Cain is a very valuable player. In 2014, his glove skills were on display for all to see, and his bat was sneakily above average. He remained healthy with an apparent new exercise regimen as well as regular rest. This season was an obvious win for Cain, but he could be much more if his plate discipline were better.

Grade: A-