Lorenzo Cain collected two more hits, and has been one of the more consistently productive members of what has otherwise been a disastrous Royals lineup so far. His .764 OPS is second on the team only to Mike Moustakas, and he has been drawing a ridiculous amount of walks this year, giving him a sensational on-base percentage of .387, easily tops on the team.
However his terrific on-base skills are masking a troubling trend with the All-Star outfielder - his power has seemed to have completely vanished.
Lorenzo Cain has never been a power hitter. When he first came to Kansas City, he was a skinny kid with a bit of an awkward swing who popped just 16 home runs in his first 315 games with the Royals. Cain was late to the game of baseball - he didn’t begin playing until high school - so it seemed when he smashed 16 home runs in 2015 that this was part of his late development.
That power carried into the 2016 season as well, as his new "lean back" swing generated even more home runs. He popped eight home runs over the first two months, including a franchise-record-tying three home runs against the Yankees almost a full year ago. He ended the month of May on pace to hit 25 home runs, a career high.
And then the home runs stopped.
Lorenzo Cain did not hit a single home run in the month of June. He missed most of the month of July with a hamstring injury. He returned in August to hit just one home run before shutting things down in September with a wrist injury. Over his last 54 games, he hit just one home run, and slugged just .368 with an ISO (slugging minus batting average) of .089.
Worse yet, that power outage has carried over into this year. Lorenzo homered for the first time on April 30, snapping one of the longest droughts to start the year in the American League (still waiting on you, Alex Gordon). His ISO this year is .101, worse than Nick Markakis, Jonathan Villar, and Billy Hamilton. Going back to June 1 of last year, covering 84 games, he is slugging just .369 with an ISO of .090 over 352 plate appearances. In comparison, Whit Merrifield is slugging .385 with an ISO of .113 over that same time.
And it is not like Cain is hitting shots to the warning track. His hard contact has taken a significant drop. He has the twelfth-highest rate of soft contact this year in all of baseball, according to Fangraphs, and the 11th-lowest rate of hard contact. You can see the decline in hard contact since his career year in 2015.
|Soft contact||Medium contact||Hard contact|
The first thing that comes to mind is that perhaps Lorenzo Cain's wrist is still bothering him. According to Cain, the wrist injury first flared up in mid-August, so it would not explain his June power outage, unless he was covering up the injury then. Cain did have all of September then the entire off-season to rest the wrist, but it can be a re-occuring injury, and wrist injuries can definitely sap a player of his power.
Another theory could be Cain is simply not getting enough good pitches to hit. The percentage of pitches he is swinging at has gone down considerably from 49.3% in 2015 to 43.1% this year. However, he is actually seeing more strikes this year - 45.4% of all pitches he has seen are in the zone, compared to 43.9% in 2015.
His groundball rate is up a tick - 47.1%, up from 45.5% in 2015. Perhaps Lorenzo needs to join the flyball revolution. In 2015, his flyball-to-home run ratio was 11.2% - on par with Mike Moustakas.
Cain could be shortening his swing to hit for more contact at the expense of power. However his contact rate isn't any higher, and he is not hitting for a higher batting average than in past seasons. It would also be counter to the Royals stated off-season strategy for Cain to decide to sacrifice power for contact.
Or maybe this is just what Lorenzo Cain and 2015 was the outlier. It is still early in the season, so soft/hard contact rates haven't stabilized, and home runs can come in spurts. Perhaps when the season is over, Cain will have put up solid power numbers. And make no mistake, even a homerless Lorenzo Cain is a very valuable player with his hitting, speed, and amazing defense.
But if the Royals are shopping Cain around this summer, teams may notice that the 2015 Lorenzo Cain that finished third in MVP voting with a complete five-tool performance may not be there anymore. One tool is missing - power.