The Lorenzo Cain Archetype
Lorenzo Cain is among my favorite baseball and fantasy baseball players. This offseason, when I made a list of players I’d hoped the Brewers would be able to sign, Cain topped the list. Therefore you can imagine my joy when the Brewers went out and signed him. In fantasy baseball circles, I targeted Cain with the hope that his move to an upgraded lineup would improve his value. It also helped that Cain missed a significant portion of the 2016 season to keep the memories of his stellar 2015 season firmly in the rear-view mirror. Signing with the Brewers was the best possible landing spot for his fantasy value due to how frequently Craig Counsell lets his players run, as well as the home park advantage for Cain’s mid-level power.
However, Lorenzo Cain is 31 years old, making him a dinosaur in dynasty circles. This got me to thinking, who are the players that could mimic LoCain’s output in 2018 and into the future? Which players are small adjustments away from being Lorenzo Cain and what adjustments are those? Which players possess a similar batted ball profile? Similarly, we’re looking for players with a high-teens strikeout rate potential, an ISO in the mid-100s, and speed to swipe 20 to 30 bases.
The Major Leaguers
The great thing about analyzing MLB talent is I have access to all of their Statcast data, and thus have the ability to create all my own splits from said data. I don’t have to rely solely on HR/FB%, I can look at HR/FB% at different types of launch angles. I don’t have to rely solely on LD%, Pull% or Hard%, I can look at this by which fields the player hits to and whether it’s a groundball, flyball, or anything in between. For starters, what has Lorenzo Cain looked like the past three seasons?
Now while these charts are better to compare dissimilar players or players who’ve made a swing change, we can see that Cain strikes out in less than 20% of all his plate appearances which jives with his documented 16.7% strikeout rate over the three year period. We can also see that he generates a HR/FB% near 9% on balls struck at 24-32° and near 18% on the loftier flyball bin above it. Cain also has an ability to limit the number of balls he hits at loftier (and less wOBA efficient) launch angles which keeps his overall HR/FB% at approximately 10%.
In the most recent seasons, we’ve learned that Cain hits the ball different in the air than he does on the ground. We’ve also learned that’s he’s a pull-field only power guy. His average exit velocity, as well as the percentage of balls hit at greater than 97 miles per hour, are adequate to give him average power to that field. However, once you combine the fact that he only pulls ~20% of his well-struck balls in the air you can see why he’d max out at fringe-average total game power. One thing to note is that Cain has moved his average exit velocity up to the opposite field, producing better wOBA outcomes in the past two seasons.
Just to get an industry context on Cain’s hit and power grades, I reached out to Kiley McDaniel on Twitter, because I know he’s super responsive and receptive. This will come in more handy once we get to the prospect section of the article.
70 hit, 45 game power, 55 D, 60 run, 50 arm? Something like that
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) April 4, 2018
The key to LoCain’s hit grade is his well-struck groundballs, the placement of these ground balls to go along with his very high line drive percentage. You can see his tendency (like most major leaguers) is to pull ground balls. Most of these have poor wOBA outcomes. However, where he makes hay is hitting the ball back up the middle with authority and presumably where there are fewer defenders to stop his batted balls. This allows Cain to continue to run a high BABIP with his 17th rated sprint speed.
Because we’re looking for players who can swipe 20 bases and hit for contact and power in the same vein as LoCain I restricted my search to the Top 50 sprint speed players while only looking for players who are 25 years old or younger.
Let’s first start with the players who don’t have a strikeout problem, as that may be harder to cure, in terms of putting enough balls in play to do the damage that Cain can do. It’s a short list, where we’ve got Ketel Marte and Ozzie Albies. Albies has certainly seen a 70 grade slapped on his hit tool, but Marte was more of a 50-55 when coming up as a prospect. Neither of these players is an outfielder, but let’s check into the power we can see from balls hit in the air.
Now, we are dealing with a smaller sample size with Albies when referring to his Pull/Center/Oppo distribution, but in terms of exit velocity, we can see that he’s on par with Cain. He seems like the most similar comp that we’ve seen so far. He’s the player I would be most interested in a strong-buy acquisition if I was trying to replace or locate a player with Lorenzo Cain’s abilities and fantasy baseball performance.
We can touch on a few of the other players now that we have a majority of the batted ball and power information available. Of the outfielders, Bradley Zimmer, Derek Fisher, Byron Buxton and Franchy Cordero have shown the most power. Buxton seems to have his average exit velocity drug down a little bit, considering how many balls he’s hitting at 97+ MPH. Buxton has a long way to go on cutting down his strikeout percentage, and I just don’t know if he’ll ever get there. The sneaky choice here to mold himself into a Lorenzo Cain type is probably Raimel Tapia. He already puts a lot of balls into play and at the ideal launch angles to do damage. Playing time isn’t currently his friend, but perhaps he could find a little more power to the pull field as he matures in his approach and uses spacious Coors Field to his advantage. While he was often considered not to have an ideal swing path to produce much loft, in his limited at-bats Tapia has produced an average launch angle of 12°.
Finally, as we take a look at the groundball distribution and exit velocity on those groundballs, we can see that our favorite pick from the MLB crowd, Albies, will need to refine his approach to skew a little more to hit the ball hard back up the middle. He’s got the hard part down, but he rolled over on almost 73% (!) of his grounders and low liners. None of these players have shown the hard-hit ability on grounders that Cain currently possesses. It’ll be fun to see if they can grow in this regard.
The Lorenzo Cainiest Prospect
Victor Robles. This is your quintessential Lorenzo Cain fantasy prospect. If you were betting on one player to become exactly what Lorenzo Cain is, it’s Robles. The question is when will he get a shot in Washington and will he be able to grab a high enough lineup slot to bring you the counting stats you’ve come to appreciate with Cain.
What we can see from his minor league numbers, however, is that he’s a pull-happy hitter at the plate so far in his career. Even without the groundball/flyball split on his pull/center/oppo percentages, we can see that he’s pulled ~50% or more of his batted balls through the various minor league levels. If I had to guess, I’d predict his distribution of groundballs and flyballs both skew heavily to the pull side in a manner akin to what we saw above with Ozzie Albies. The other notable difference with Robles is that he appears to have a higher launch angle. We can see this from his lower groundball and higher flyball rates in the minor leagues. It amounts to about a 6% difference and likely means his average launch angle is in the 15-17 degree range. If he has the bat speed and exit velocity his power could play up higher than what we see out of Cain, or he could need to bring the launch angle down a bit similar to what we see in the “skyball” bin with Buxton.
The Final Verdict
There just aren’t a lot of fantasy baseball assets that have the unique skill set that Lorenzo Cain brings to the table, save for the superstars like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve. Or if we’re looking for direct skill set clones you’ve got Jean Segura, Starling Marte, and Eduardo Nunez, though none of them walk quite as frequently as Cain has over the last three seasons.
While Ozzie Albies may be the current youngster who is the most similar to LoCain, Tim Anderson could whittle down his K-rate or Ketel Marte could bring more power to the table. Heck, maybe Dansby Swanson could whittle down his K-rate and in the process learn to hit the ball harder on the ground while pounding out more line drives in the process to recapture some of his glory-prospect status.
Raimel Tapia, with playing time, could likely already sport LoCain type numbers if he were able to hit atop a major league lineup. His elite bat-to-ball skills combined with his speed keep his floor really high even if the Rockies seem dead-set on not utilizing him.
Though I haven’t mentioned him thus far because the overall data doesn’t support it, Manuel Margot made second-half changes in 2017 that I’ll be monitoring early in 2018 that may make him much closer to a Cain clone than this article is giving him credit for. His launch angle increases are often noted, but he has yet to show he can hit the ball any harder either in the air or on the ground to support the profile we’ve been researching.
Finally, if you’re feeling like you just can’t punish yourself enough with disappointment, there’s always a chance that Buxton will make more contact as he develops and pushes for a top of the order lineup slot again someday – I just wouldn’t put many eggs in that basket.