The Royals, after stating center fielder Lorenzo Cain was at 85 percent with his injured hamstring, walked that back on Sunday. He’s now closer to 75 or 80 percent.
This is one of those fun games the Royals play with injuries. We’re parsing 10 to five percent on a guy whose legs are a massive part of his baseball skill set. Whatever. What we do know is that Cain needs a few more days of workouts before he can feel comfortable again. And before he can get back into the lineup, he needs to head out on a rehab assignment. He’s eligible to come of the DL now, but it looks (and sounds) like he needs at least another week or so before he returns.
Here’s a percent for you to kick around: There’s a zero percent chance Cain will be in the lineup on Monday. And that significantly reduces the Royals chance to put runs on the board.
As spectacular as his defense can be in center, Cain is supremely important to the Royals on offense. Look at the bottom line: Runs scored. Scoring is up across the league. In the American League, teams are averaging 4.6 R/G, up from last year’s 4.4 R/G. Meanwhile, scoring for the Royals is down. Last year, they averaged 4.5 R/G, the sixth-best rate in the league. Not a lot of power, but the singles train was full steam ahead. This summer? Royals bats are barely getting out of the station, averaging just 4.0 R/G. That places them 14th out of 15 teams, ahead of only Tampa in the run scoring column.
When you remove Lorenzo Cain from the lineup, the situation only becomes more dire. In the 15 games he’s missed since pulling his hamstring on June 26, the Royals have plated just 3.5 R/G.
I haven’t done any kind of study about what happens when you remove a productive bat from the middle of the lineup for a couple of weeks and the impact it has on a team’s run scoring capabilities, but given the small sample of games Cain has missed, this feels extreme. We can expect some falloff in runs generated, and maybe it’s skewed by the sample size, but a half a run difference?
The harsh fact is the dearth of runs is something you can expect with Cain out of the lineup and the Royals know this. In fact, prior to his injury, Cain had been held out of the starting lineup only four times. When you expand the Royals run scoring sample without Cain in the lineup to those games, the offense drops further. Overall in 2016, when Cain is on the sidelines the Royals average 3.2 R/G. Their offense basically turns into the Atlanta Braves, but a little worse.
On those rest days, I suppose Ned Yost is doing a decent job keeping Cain positioned on the bench. The only time in the four days off Cain received before landing on the DL where he found himself coming off the bench was on June 19 when he entered the game as a pinch runner in the 13 and scored the game winning run.
The Royals are now at a critical juncture of their season. They need Cain back in the lineup. If there’s any question as to how badly, the Royals floated the idea of easing him back a little early by playing him in right. I get the logic, that center field in Kansas City is a taxing position because of the area covered. By nature of center, Cain is moving on nearly every fly ball hit to the outfield. He would definitely be running less in right, and his glove definitely plays in the corner.
It’s a sound short-term solution to the current short-term issue that threatens to derail the Royals long-term plans. But before the Royals unleash Cain, if we can return to the percentage game for a moment, they need to make damn sure his hamstring is 100 percent sound. The Royals are barely hanging on as it is. If Cain goes down again, he will take the Royals entire season along.