KC Royals: The Non-Regression Of Lorenzo Cain


Lorenzo Cain‘s offense in the 2014 Postseason was a huge boost for the KC Royals and for that performance he received the 2014 ALCS MVP.  Cain was also the only player on the Royals who hit .300 throughout the 2014 season (minimum 50 PA). He stole 28 bases as well and captured a +14 DRS (defensive runs saved).

After the season was over and after the start of the New Year, the media talk of the defensive juggernaut and player that is Lorenzo Cain was pushed aside in favor of the amazing Chicago Cubs young core and San Diego’s free agent bonanza.

Beyond just pushing the Cain offense story aside, a number of outlets such as Joel Reuter from Bleacher Report and Paul Casella from Sports on Earth projected that Lorenzo Cain was headed for offensive regression in 2015.

According to FanGraphs, Lorenzo Cain was second in BABIP (.380) for all of 2014 (minimum 450 PA).  BABIP, which I have discussed earlier is considered to be the basis for prediction of whether a player’s previous years hitting was a fluke or not.  Cain was only 0.015 of a BABIP low from breaking into the top 10 BABIP seasons since 1945.

In addition to the web press being down on Lorenzo, a few prediction outlets such as STEAMER and ZiPS also downgraded him also.

One of the fundamental requirements in using Sabermetrics or advanced statistics is understanding when the minimum sample size criteria has been met. In batting statistics, it isn’t unusual for several hundred or even 1,000 AB’s or PA’s are needed to stabilize a particular statistic. This can often be seasons in a players career, and in the case of BABIP the minimum sample size is considered to be 820 BIP total. BIP (Balls in play) are calculated as follows: BIP = AB-HR-K+SF.

For a power hitter, who hits home runs and strikes out a lot, this just further increases the number of AB’s you need to increase BIP. Somewhere in the middle of July 2014, Lorenzo Cain hit the 820 BIP mark for the first time in his career. If you take a player getting 500AB per season with say 15 home runs and 100 strikeouts, that corresponds to 385 BIP, which would take a little over two seasons to hit 820 BIP.

Lorenzo Cain did have a series of injuries that lengthened this time to hit 820 BIP, but there is another hidden perhaps more ominous part to this type of numerical characterization of a batter. How many BIP does the average player coming into MLB have? That is the foundation of what the hitter had to get him there. Guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, who had been scouted forever, had to have had at least have had 1,000 BIP at competitive levels before they were 15 years-old.

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Lorenzo Cain also did not start playing baseball until he was 15 years-old. Also, it wasn’t until 2013-2014 that Cain was seeing 1,700-1,800 pitches a season in MLB. Moose hasn’t seen less than 1,900 pitches since 2011, and Hosmer has seen at least 2,000 every year including 2011. Cain didn’t start seeing 1,000 pitches a season until 2012.

Some of this was injury as noted recently by Andy McCullough of the KC Star that Cain needed to learn to train his body to keep it healthy. He wasn’t able to play even 100 games in a season until 2013.

Cain is a career .345 BABIP and it looks like he is just starting to come into his own. As shown below, Cain has continued to progress from 2013 into 2014, and even better in 2015.

Lorenzo Cain BABIP per month since 1000 pitches/season (Data from FanGraphs)

Note in March and April of 2013 when Cain had a .412 BABIP, he only had 42 AB in 12 games. This year in 2015 with April not even closed out yet, Cain has a .459 BABIP with 46 AB in 12 games. That .459 BABIP makes Lorenzo Cain No. 6 in all of MLB (minimum 40 PA).

Cain’s projected regression has apparently become progression, and if he keeps it up he could be bringing home the AL MVP in 2015.

Next: Brett Lawrie Deserves Suspension

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