Fantasy Implications - Lorenzo Cain to Brewers

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Former Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain signed a five-year deal worth $80 million with the Milwaukee Brewers on January 25. He was drafted by the Brewers in 2004, and traded to the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal in December of 2010, but now is back in Milwaukee to make an impact.

The Brewers acquired outfielder Christian Yelich earlier the same day, which means the Brewers now have one of the more dynamic outfields in baseball, albeit one that is a bit crowded. Ryan Braun may now need to play first base to keep the team's best players in the lineup, and Domingo Santana may be traded for pitching, so manager Craig Counsell may have tough decisions to make. Still, Cain will be the starting centerfielder from day one in Milwaukee and is joining a strong lineup for the Brewers.

So with a potential 20/20 player moving into an outfield that currently has five starter-quality outfielders, what is the fantasy impact of Lorenzo Cain's move to the Milwaukee Brewers?

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LoCain Returns Home

Cain is the first big free agent to leave Kansas City- with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas still as free agents- but he will now have to make an impact with the team where he started his career (.763 OPS in 147 at-bats in 2010). The Brewers opened the offseason with Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, and Domingo Santana as the projected starting outfielders (with Brinson and Brett Phillips waiting in the wings) and, even though they traded Brinson in the Yelich trade, the team added both Cain and Yelich. This means that the team will make a decision on if they want to dump salary on Braun or if they will go for a big starting pitching move, trying to move Domingo Santana for a top starting pitcher. How the Brewers decide to manage their outfield will impact Cain's fantasy stock, but moving to Milwaukee should still significantly improve Cain's numbers for 2018.

Cain played the most games of his career in 2017 (155) and was a 15/15 player for the second time (posting 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases), but he only drove in 49 batters. He did score 86 runs, and has stolen at least 26 bases in three of the last four seasons, giving the Brewers a real speed threat at the top of the lineup. Cain has also posted a .300 batting average in three of the last four seasons (and has a .290 career batting average); this is a good thing for the Brewers, as Yelich and Cain are each .290 hitters and will be able to get on base more for the Brewers' sluggers. While Cain does not walk a lot, just a career-high 54 walks in 2017, he also does not strike out a ton (100 strikeouts just twice in his career). Considering that the Brewers led baseball with 1571 strikeouts last season (and that he will take the place of Keon Broxton, who walked 40 times while striking out 175 times last season), the team will be happy to have a player that makes more contact at the top of the lineup.

If you take a deeper look into the advanced statistics for Cain, there are a lot of good signs that show that he is becoming a better hitter, namely his hard-hit ball percentage. Prior to 2015, Cain was a hitter with a hard-hit ball rate in the mid 20s; since 2015 though, his hard hit ball rate has been in the 30s each season. That increase in hard hit ball rate has also come with a fly ball rate in the 30% range and a ground ball rate that was at a career-low 44.4% in 2017. All is not perfect for Cain's batted ball numbers, as he has had a soft-hit ball rate over his career average in both 2016 and 2017 (career average of 17.7%). He has hit the ball to center field more often over the last two seasons (up to 40.5% in 2017 from a career average of 37.4%), a good thing considering that center field is 10 feet closer in Miller Park than at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.

As for park factors, Cain has a bit of a mixed bag, even if Miller Park is known as a hitter's park. Kansas City's Kaufmann Stadium actually was fourth in runs factor for right handed batters in 2017 (Milwaukee's Miller Park was only 15th) and Kaufmann Stadium had better results than Miller Park for singles, doubles, and triples for righties in 2017. Miller Park was more homer friendly for righties last season (9th compared to Kaufmann Stadium's 25th), but it is still a bit suprising that Miller Park may actually depress Cain's numbers. He is not known as an elite slugger anyway, so maybe he becomes a 20/20 player in Milwaukee, but fantasy owners will be upset if he sees a dip in other extra base hit totals.

So what is his overall impact on the Brewers? It looks like Cain will hit second for the Brewers in 2018 and will have an All-Star in Yelich hitting in front of him and sluggers Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun hitting directly behind him. Jonathan Villar should also be at the bottom of the lineup, giving Cain a speedy player to knock in, and the Brewers are not shy to give the green light on stolen bases, giving Cain an uptick in stolen base attempts as well. It might be a bit too much to look at Cain as an OF2, but he should be a nice OF3 in all formats with slightly higher upside in a nice location like Milwaukee.

 

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