Lorenzo Cain was asked last month at Royals FanFest for his Super Bowl pick.
“I’m a Peyton Manning fan, but I’m going Seahawks,” Cain said. “Defense wins. That’s me. Defense wins.”
Undoubtedly, Cain knows defense. He was recipient of the Wilson Defensive Player of The Year Award after last season. One player from each team receives the award each year, and Cain was the Royals’ winner over Gold Glover Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer.
Not that it seemed to mean much to Cain.
“If they want to award me, that’s fine with me,” Cain said. “But I’m going out there just trying to be a play-maker for my teammates.”
That he was. Cain made so many incredible catches last summer that it’s a wonder the Royals didn’t make a DVD.
There was the leap over the wall to take a home run away from Trevor Plouffe in Minnesota. He also left a body imprint in the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago when he took extra-bases from Jeff Keppinger. And don’t forget about when he started a game by lunging for a Texas Leaguer off the bat of the Angels’ Erick Aybar.
Cain’s personal favorite was a diving grab of a line shot off the bat of the Orioles’ Adam Jones, who, ironically, ended up as the AL Gold Glove winner in center field over Cain. That catch was with two outs and the bases loaded.
“I made a lot of plays, got to a lot of balls, but that’s what I work hard on in practice each and every day to perfect my craft,” Cain said. “I feel like I did a great job of it last year, but like I said, that was last year. I’ve got to go out there and try and improve on last year.”
What the eye saw last summer is backed up by the metrics.
In 2013, Cain saved 17 runs, according to The Fielding Bible, tops for American League center fielders*.
*This evaluates the actual runs saved or allowed by the fielder, compared to the average.
Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR for Cain was 2.8, best among AL center fielders.
Additionally, Cain’s Ultimate Zone Rating/150* from FanGraphs was 23.9, the highest at his position among AL center fielders who played at least 700 innings.
*That’s the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.
The rub, of course, is in that last stat. Cain has yet to play 150 games in a major-league season.
A year ago, Cain played in just 115 games, but that was a career-high. He missed 24 games with a pulled oblique. In 2013, Cain missed time with a left groin strain, torn left hip flexor and a hamstring strain.
General manager Dayton Moore acknowledged that Cain’s health history means the Royals likely will have five outfielders on the roster at the start of the season.
“He’s worked hard again this offseason,” Moore said of Cain. “(Head athletic trainer) Nick Kenney and our medical team feel like he’s in a great place right now and hopefully he’s learning to manage his body a little more going forward, because he’s one of the better defensive center fielders in the game as we know.
“It’s very important that we have impact there on the field at that position.”
It’s not just Moore who has made it known that Cain’s well-being is important to the team.
“You can’t imagine how many times I heard ‘stay healthy’ during the autograph session today,” Cain said at FanFest. “But it is what it is, it’s understandable. I guess I’m a little reckless in on the outfield sometimes, running into walls, but that’s my game. That’s how I play, I play hard.”
He paused slightly, then added words Royals fans want to hear: “I’m just going to try and get this body as healthy as possible.”
Here is Cain’s catch against Adam Jones of the Orioles (via MLB.com):
Then there was this catch against the Twins (via MLB.com):