StaTuesday: Past play suggests Cain can make Brewers defensive history

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain this offseason for a few reasons — veteran leadership, ability to get on base, speed/power combination … and his superb defense.

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Cain has been one of the best defensive outfielders in the baseball the moment he took the field for his first major-league game with the Brewers.

Since 2010 — Cain’s rookie year — just 36 times has an outfielder recorded a defensive WAR of 2.0 or higher, according to baseball-reference.com’s metric. Cain has three of those. The only other outfielder with as many seasons of 2.0+ dWAR in that same span is Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, who also has three.

In fact, Cain is just one of a handful of outfielders in MLB history to post three or more seasons of 2.0+ dWAR. The list is a who’s who of all-time great defensive outfielders. Andruw Jones has the most such seasons with seven while Devon White and Paul Blair each had five. Kenny Lofton is next with four while Cain, Kiermaier, Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Garry Maddox and Willie Mays all have three.

In five of Cain’s eight seasons he’s posted a dWAR of 1.0 or higher. In two others he had a 0.9. In 2011 he had just a 0.1, but then again Cain only played in six games that season. His defense peaked from 2013-15 with Kansas City, when he had dWARs of 2.8, 2.7 and 2.3. He’s slipped some the past two years, but still recorded a 1.2 and 0.9.

If Cain can just play his normal defense, he still should have one of the best defensive seasons for an outfielder in Brewers history.

Only 10 times has a Milwaukee outfielder recorded a dWAR of 1.0 or higher (minimum 50 percent of games played in the outfield) — and Cain has one of them, tied for fifth all-time at 1.1 in 2010. Carlos Gomez is the only Brewers outfielder to post above a 2.0 — he had a 4.6 in 2013, the second-highest total in MLB history for a center fielder.

HIGHEST BREWERS OUTFIELDER dWAR

PLAYER YEAR dWAR
Carlos Gomez 2013 4.6
Carlos Gomez 2011 1.8
Turner Ward 1994 1.2
Bob Coluccio 1974 1.2
Keon Broxton 2016 1.1
Lorenzo Cain 2010 1.1
Logan Schafer 2013 1.0
Geoff Jenkins 1999 1.0
Gerald Williams 1997 1.0
Greg Vaughn 1993 1.0

If Cain can get back to his 2013-15 days, he’d join just 10 other Brewers who have posted 2.0 dWAR regardless of position (note: main position listed first).

PLAYER POS YEAR dWAR
Carlos Gomez CF 2013 4.6
Jason Kendall C 2008 2.8
Robin Yount SS 1981 2.8
Ellie Rodriguez C 1971 2.3
Bill Hall SS/3B/CF/2B 2006 2.2
Jeff Cirillo 3B 1997 2.1
Jose Valentin SS 1996 2.1
Jonathan Lucroy C/1B 2014 2.0
Jeff Bianchi 3B/SS/2B/LF 2013 2.0
J.J. Hardy SS 2008 2.0

As an aside, last year Milwaukee had three players with a 1.0+ dWAR: Manny Pina (1.9), Orlando Arcia (1.3) and Eric Sogard (1.0). Brett Phillips did manage a 0.8 despite playing in just 30 games in the field.

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns