The Kansas City Royals are coming off their best season since 1989, and are looking to improve on their 86 wins in 2013. Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a look at the players that should play a significant role for the Royals in 2014.
Cain set a new career high in games played last season for the Royals. Unfortunately, the bar was pretty low as Cain only saw action in 115 games. His durability continues to hamper his progress in his first two full seasons in the majors. He started both seasons as the Royals regular center fielder, but has only played in 176 games, only 54% of Kansas City’s total games in that period.
The Royals need more from Cain. They need him to play in more games ,and they need more production from him. He only produced 46 RBI and 54 runs scored last season. The Royals need more production from his bat to help this offense become more dangerous.
Cain, who will be 28 years old in April, seemed to get exposed with more at bats. In his first three seasons in the majors, he played in 110 games, with a spread out 425 plate appearances. His slash line over these partial seasons was .281/.327/.412/.739. In 2013, in 115 games and 442 plate appearances, his slash was .251/.310/.348/.658.
There was a drastic drop last season from his career numbers, which almost matched his games and plate appearances for 2013. The biggest drop was in power. Cain hit 7 home runs in 222 at bats in 2012, but only had 4 in 442 at bats last season. His Slugging Percentage plummeted from a career average of .412 over his first 110 games to .348 last season.
For someone with so little power, Lorenzo Cain strikes out entirely too much. Last season, he whiffed 90 times, 20.4% of the time. That is way too strikeouts for a guy who only produced 139 total bases on the season.
There are some big positives with Cain. He has some speed and steal some bases, although his success rate (70%) in 2013 wasn’t phenomenal, it wasn’t horrible either. He could steal more than 14 bases if he could get on more often.
That speed really helps him on defense. Last season, according to Fangraphs.com, Cain earned an Ultimate Zone Rating of 12.8 in 761.1 innings in center field, and 7.2 in 186.2 innings in right field. With a UZR of 20 for the season in 948 innings, just think of what he could do if he played 30 more games!
Make no doubt about it. These numbers are elite. Adam Jones, who won the Gold Glove last season, had a UZR of -6.8. Defensive metrics are still evolving but this gives you a pretty good indication of just how good Cain is defensively.
Just how elite is Cain? In 416.1 more innings, 3-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon had a 2013 UZR of 8.6, and we all know how good he is.
Like some other hitters on the Royals roster, Cain has issues not getting the ball in the air more, as you would suspect by his low extra base hit total. Again according to Fangraphs.com, Cain hit a ball on the ground 49.2% of the time, last season. He only hit a fly ball 28.9% of the time.
These numbers are only slightly higher than his career stats (47.4 GB%, 31% FB). It will be hard for Cain to hit for more power until he brings these two figures closer together.
When you add in his high K%, you can see why Cain struggles at the plate on a regular basis. Something that could help Cain is trying to bunt for a hit on occasion. In his time with the Royals, Cain has never bunted once, not one time.
With his speed, and lack of power, he should at least attempt it now and then, at least give the defense something to think about. Considering Ned Yost‘s love of the bunt, Cain must be really bad at it to have never have bunted.
I am no scout, but I do watch a lot of baseball, especially Royals baseball. When Cain swings, he has this odd little backward lean that can’t be good for making consistent contact. When he squares the ball up, he hits it hard. His career Line Drive Percentage is 21.6, which is pretty decent. If he could make better contact more often, his numbers would go up, almost guaranteed. It is just seems unlikely that he can improve greatly with that lean in his swing.
First and foremost, Lorenzo Cain has to stay healthy. His glove has some real value. He amassed a 3.2 Wins Above Replacement last season, almost solely on his glove. He can help win ball games just be being on the field.
If he can take a big step forward at the plate, the Royals can feel good about Cain being the center fielder for the immediate future. If he continues to get hurt, or if he declines defensively, or if he continues to show no improvement with the bat, then Kansas City is going to have to start looking elsewhere for a center fielder.
It would be nice to see Cain grasp the job and become a positive staple, with the glove and bat, for the Royals for several years to come. 2014 may be his last chance with the Royals as he becomes arbitration eligible in 2015.