A.J. Pollock is one of the bigger outfield names on the free agent market this year. The oft-injured outfielder is reportedly seeking a deal similar to what Lorenzo Cain received last year—5 years at $80 million. Is this a realistic ask for Pollock?
Pollock and Cain both became regular full-time players around the same time, in 2013. Since then, both players have staked their claim as two of the more talented center fielders in the game. Both have also been somewhat prone to injury, though Cain has mostly avoided anything that takes him off the field for extended periods of time. Pollock, on the other hand, has not been quite as lucky.
Over six seasons, Cain has averaged 131 games and 531 plate appearances per season. Pollock has not been as reliable, averaging 101 and 402, respectively. Outside of 2013 and 2015, which saw Pollock suit up for 137 and 157 games, he posted seasons of 75, 12, 112 and 113 games. That’s an average of 78 games per season in those four years. That’s less than half a season.
Moving on to player value, I’ll compare the bWAR of both players for the same time period. Pollock posted a total of 20.1 and average of 3.4 during that stretch. Cain has a total of 30.3 and averaged 5 bWAR per season. Cain has also posted three excellent bWAR seasons of 7.2, 5.3 and 6.9 during that run, with those last two campaigns coming in 2017 and 2018 and shows no signs of slowing down.
In comparison, Pollock did match Cain’s 7.2 bWAR in 2015, however outside of that, his best season was a 3.7 in 2014. In 2017 and 2018, he posted a 3.0 and 2.5 bWAR, for a total of 5.5 versus Cain’s total bWAR of 12.2 during the same two years.
Breaking down that value a bit more, we know Cain has a reputation as a human highlight reel in center field. Pollock is no slouch, either. Comparing the two usind DRS, again from 2013-2018, Cain has a total DRS of 82 for a 13.7 average. Pollock’s total is 51 for an average of 8.5—of course Pollock has logged less innings with 4,814 versus Cain’s 6,454. However, if you prorate Pollock’s number, taking his average DRS per inning and projecting to Cain’s 6,454—you’d get a total projected DRS of 68, which still works out to 14 less runs saved.
Offensively, they compare somewhat more favorably. As you can see below, Cain gets the edge in OBP while Pollock is more of a slugger. Overall, using wOBA, Cain has a slight edge in production at the plate. I won’t take too much of a deep dive into Pollock’s numbers, but if you’re curious, check out this article for a closer look at Pollock’s decline.
In the end, while they aren’t too far off in value at bat, the durability issues and disparity in defensive value tilts things in favor of Cain. Pollock is a valuable player, no doubt. But if I were a GM, I wouldn’t offer a Lorenzo Cain-sized contract to A.J. Pollock at this point in his career.
Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC.