Lorenzo Cain is 31 years old and on most days during a baseball season, if you ask him how his legs feel, he’ll say they’re tired. Lorenzo plays center field in spacious Kauffman Stadium and that’s a lot of ground to cover.
On a single hit toward right center, the left fielder gets a break; he’s supposed to run in and back up second base, but a lot of left fielders don’t set any land-speed records while doing so. Same thing on a single hit toward left center; the right fielder should come in and back up second base, but a lot of right fielders do that at a leisurely pace.
But the center fielder has to go full speed on both those plays.
He’ll either field the ball himself or be expected to back up the corner outfielder who does. And the outfielder who backs up the play might have to run further and harder than the outfielder who makes the play.
So if the pitcher gets the ball knocked all around the yard, Lorenzo feels like he spent the day doing a series of wind sprints in a park the size of Yellowstone.
Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz points out how often visiting center fielders take a day off when they come to Kansas City. They’ll run around Kauffman for a couple days, then need a break.
As usual, the Royals played 81 home games in 2017 and Lorenzo started 77 of them. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a guy whose legs are a big part of his game.
On April 13 of next year, Lorenzo will be 32 years old.
We’ve been looking at the Royals’ free-agent position players and should Lorenzo get multiple offers, the size of the park and the amount of ground he’ll be asked to cover could be a factor.
How playing in Kauffman Stadium helps Cain
Lorenzo’s overall career numbers are: .290 batting average/.342 on-base percentage/.421 slugging percentage. When playing in Kauffman Stadium those numbers are better: .302/.346/.438.
Lorenzo has dumped so many flare hits just behind the second baseman, TV announcer Rex Hudler refers to that area as the “LoCain Triangle.”
Kauffman’s size might rob hitters of home runs, but it gives away singles.
If an outfielder’s defensive skills are suspect, he’d rather come in on a ball than go back on one hit over his head. So, when visiting The K, opposing outfielders often play deeper than normal and that allows those flare singles to drop in.
So if Cain gives his legs a break by signing to play in a smaller park, his batting average might be affected as well.
Why playing in a smaller ballpark could help Cain avoid injury
One of the reasons Raul Mondesi made the team out of spring training was his ability to go back on the ball. Mondesi’s range allowed Lorenzo and the right fielder to play deeper than they would with another second baseman.
Playing deeper meant Lorenzo had a better chance of arriving at the Kauffman Stadium wall under control. If he played shallow and had to sprint all out to make a catch, Lorenzo might run into the wall full speed; something Royals fans have seen fairly often.
And there’s less padding for Lorenzo to run into since the Royals installed those field-level scoreboards. They’re covered with chain link, but Lorenzo says there’s not a whole lot of give in them; hitting those scoreboards feels like running into an over-sized cheese grater.
When Lorenzo plays in a smaller park, he’s closer to the wall and has a better chance of beating the ball to the spot, slowing down and then making the catch under control.
Will Cain be back?
At this point there’s a lot of speculation about the Royals free agents and where they’ll wind up, but keep in mind most of what you’re hearing is just that — speculation.
If the Royals go the youth-movement route, one scenario is bringing Bubba Starling to the big leagues to play center field, putting him in the 9-hole and hoping his glove makes up for whatever his bat lacks.
If offhand comments mean anything — and I’m pretty sure they don’t — when I told Lorenzo I hoped he would be back, he said: “That’s the plan.” But until Lorenzo sees what offers are on the table, even he doesn’t know where he’ll wind up.
If it’s Kauffman Stadium, now you know how playing there helps and hurts Lorenzo Cain.