While Christian Yelich took home the MVP trophy and most of the plaudits for the Brewers rise from the muck (not fair, Milwaukee is surprisingly lovely but we’ve got a role to play here) to a game from the World Series, Lorenzo Cain had his part to play as well. He was back to his Royals-best, nearly a six-WAR player, setting a career-high in batting average and playing an exemplary centerfield. Certainly he brought a swag to the Crew that helped them to their best season in recent memory.
So it would probably be fair to also point some arrows at him now that the Brewers appear to be resigned to their fate, sinking back into that muck from whence they came with little resistance.
Cain has fallen off a cliff offensively this year, suffering a 50-point drop in his average, 70-point drop in OBP, and a 60-point drop in slugging. He’s been worth a 77 wRC+, which is simply awful, 23 points below average. He’s been worth one win, due solely to his defense, a precipitous drop from ’18.
There are some easy causes to spot. His walk-rate has dropped from 11.5% to 8.4%, though the latter number is much closer to his career mark and last year was the outlier. That’s certainly not helping his on-base much. He’s also seen a 63-point drop in his BABIP, so he’s been a touch unlucky. Cain usually carries a higher-than-normal BABIP because of his speed, but that might be on the wane as he’s got half the steals from last year (30 to 16) with less than a month to go.
But it’s not that simple. While Cain is hitting more line-drives this season, even with the Titleist balls he’s seen a drop in his hard-contact rate while most everyone else is going the other way. And Cain has had issues with breaking and off-speed pitches, which is usually an indication that he’s leaning out a bit on fastballs, something of a marker of age. And he is 33, which is bordering on old.
Last year, Cain his .240 on change-ups, .271 on sliders, and .394 on curves. Those numbers this year are .164, .247, and .211, while his marks on fastballs remain just about the same. However, Cain might consider himself seriously unlucky, because his line-drive rate on all of those pitches is significantly higher than it was last season. That said, his whiff-rates on curves and changes, the real off-speed stuff, has gone up significantly too. So he can’t curse the gods about everything.
There also seems to be a shift in Cain’s approach. Last year, Cain had a 4.9 average launch-angle, which is way below what he used to do. This year it’s back up to 6.4, but it’s come at the price of what he’s doing at the bottom of the zone.
It’s the same story with slugging as well. Perhaps a fixation with getting the ball up in the air, or just not on the ground as much, has left him vulnerable.
Still, it’s a concern. The Brewers are not a young team by any stretch, and there isn’t a lot of help coming in the next year or two from the system. Whatever help there may be is already there, in the form of Keston Hiura and now Trent Grisham (who might push Cain off of center one day soon). Cain has three years left on his deal, which will take him to 36, and it figures that more and more of his speed is going to go on him.
Considering Braun is aging as well, and Grandal is only around for one more season after this one, and the state of the pitching staff, it could go out from under the Brewers in a hurry. Shame, that.