Jay Bruce has had a disappointing season. After what felt like a 2013 in which he took a few steps forward, 2014 has seen him taking at least as many back. Indeed, if you had bet on Bruce being in the same slugging territory as Billy Hamilton in mid August, you could have made a lot of money.

So what’s up here? Why has Jay Bruce, a predictably above average hitter, suddenly become below average at what he’s always done best?

As much as these posts are supposed to be about depth, this is pretty simple. There are several factors needed to explain Bruce’s off year, but taken together, they paint a complete picture. Best of all, I don’t see any serious red flags for next year.

The Injury

Jay Bruce tore his meniscus. He played on it for a while. While playing on his damaged knee, he did not hit very well. SURPRISE! So, start by chucking those April and May numbers out the window. They don’t tell us anything useful.

The Power Outage

See the previous paragraph. Bruce has lost some distance on his average fly balls this year, but playing around with spray charts and dates shows that pretty much all of that can be accounted for by his injury. Since coming back from the DL, his fly balls have been going much farther.

The BABIP

Right now, Bruce has a BABIP of .277. This is the second lowest number of his career (second only to his aberrantly unlucky .221 in 2009), and well below his career rate of .294. Part of that can possibly be attributed to the lack of authority with which he hit balls while injured. Part of it also has to do with the fact that with a high strikeout rate and above average walk rate, Bruce doesn’t put a ton of balls in play, so he’s going to be more susceptible to random variation than some other guys.

Conclusion

Jay Bruce hasn’t had a good year, but I don’t think we’re seeing anything to be worried about. His power seems to have bounced back lately. His BB and SO numbers are more or less where we’d expect them to be. His BABIP and ISO are a little low for the season, but those are both understandable given his injury and maybe a little bad luck. Jay Bruce’s year is a lot like the Reds’ season, actually, it hasn’t gone nearly as well as it should have. Some of it’s luck, but a lot of it is just the kind of injury stuff that is going to happen from time to time.

28 Responses

  1. Blair

    Above average hitter?? He has had exactly 2 years where he hit above .260 and one of those years was .262. He is an average hitter who has some power and basically swings at almost everything. Career average of .253. Injuries this year aside, he is far from an above average hitter. As the popular saying goes “the back of the baseball card don’t lie.”

    • Walks Will Haunt

      Four seasons before this one Bruce posted wRC+ of 124, 119, 120 and 117. Career wRC+ 111. So, yes, above average hitter.

    • Vicferrari

      Are you really coming to this site to base batting average to define what an above average hitter is?
      In my mind you are wrong-I feel he is an elite player- not quite a superstar who has had a disappointing year- but at least come up with a valid argument- take another look at the baseball card find 20 OFers who have compiled better numbers

    • docmike

      If you are assessing whether a guy is an above average hitter or not based solely on his batting average, then you’re ignoring several other factors that truly determine just how valuable a hitter is.

      You may be looking at the back of the baseball card, but you’re ignoring every other line except for BA.

    • lwblogger2

      You also need to consider the NL league average batting average… Did you know that batting average, just one small measure of hitting, in the NL, currently is .249. If a guy hits .250, he’s getting on the high side of average. I don’t think people really understand just how much offense has declined the last few years.

      • Shchi Cossack

        That is an aspect of the game that I find myself continually having to adjust my thinking and perspective. It has become a pitchers game.

      • the next janish

        I didn’t think of this before but does this mean WRC of 100 now might be less than a WRC of 100 in say 1999?

      • tct

        WRC of 100 is league average, whatever the league average is that year. So yes, a player with a wRC of 100 in 1999 would have a much higher OPS than one with a 100 wRC in 2014. It’s also park adjusted, so a 100 in Coors field will have better numbers than a 100 in Petco, but the guy in Petco gets extra credit for playing in a pitchers park while the guy in Coors gets penalized for playing in a hitters park.

      • tct

        I think a lot of reds fans don’t realize how much offense has declined in the past 5 years and this drives a lot of the Votto criticism. They expect him to hit 30 home runs each year without understanding how rare that is now. Only 3 players in the NL got to 30 last year, while there used to be 20 + guys in each league doing that during the height of the “steroid era”. They also don’t realize how rare the 400 + obp guys are now.

  2. Jeff

    I don’t think the article meant he is a hit for average player, rather he is closer to the better hitters in the league than he is the worst. Could be wrong though, but if you think the back of Jay Bruce’s card is poor, well then you should reevaluate what you consider a good hitter.

  3. WhereRUKlu?

    JB is a streak hitter. Always has been, always will. Cold, hot, cold, hot. Since Votto is not the power hitter he once showed a couple of years ago, the Reds will have to rely on where JB is cycling at in his curve. So goes JB, so go the Reds, as far as home runs go. Fraiz and Meso showed some power this year, but is that a mirage, or a preview of things to come for them? The Todd-father is injured lately, so his numbers are affected, and Roco-Soco Robot has been visited by the DL deamons, so his stats are skewed. From what I’ve seen lately though, outside of regular catcher aches and pains, Roco is ok, maybe tired, but his longball swing has left him for now as well. LF and SS has never really figured into the longball equation this year, and that is another story for Jocketty to address the fans. So then, if Bruce is to be considered an “average” hitter (.250-.260 range) recent numbers indicate that he has some room for improvement. “Above average” I consider him not. The Reds hold on to him because of his power streaks. It is probablhy the only reason he remains with them. Should his power numbers of HRs remain in the 15-20 range and he is only hitting .220-.230, he will run the risk of being trade bait for some team withn lesser talent….Adam Dunn ring a bell?.

  4. cfd3000

    How much of the drop in Bruce’s BABIP can be attributed to increasing and effective use of defensive shifts against him, combined with a decrease in balls in play to the left side of the diamond? With no data to apply and just relying on my eyes it seems that’s a combination that a) has hurt his productivity and b) is not likely to rebound until/unless he starts to use the whole field. Ted Williams never gave in to the shifts and still ruled the hitting world. Few hitters are in the Splinter’s league.

    • Kevin J. Brown

      Jay’s hitting slightly below his career average to LF 13% rather than 15.5% but that doesn’t seem like a big statistical deal. There are three main differences to his stats this year than his career: 1) He’s hitting a lot of ground balls – career 38.7% 2014 47.1%; 2) His BABIP on the fly balls he does hit is poor; career .244 2014 .156 and 3) His BABIP on ine drives is unsustainably low; 2014 .528 career .708 league average .640 ish.

      Make with it what you will.

  5. Sparky

    While I like Jay as a Red, This blog LOVES Jay, I like how Redleg nation continues to craft and shape the numbers to allow for Bruce’s horrible play. He is what he is. Most on here have watched day after day of Bruce’s cold spells, long, frustrating cold spells. Love the occasional power outbursts, but they have become few and far between. Injury? Nope, this guy is still hitting in the low .200’s. and that’s a fact…..JACK!. Bruce continues to be slow to adjust at the plate. Pitchers throw the same pitch for weeks before he tries to go the other way other than lazy flyballs to LF. I’m guessing that now the Reds are effectively out of the race, good ole Bruce with begin to hit and give all in Redleg nation hope for next year.

    • Vicferrari

      I am trying to figure if this is a insult or compliment

      • the next janish

        If you haven’t seen Dunn’s pitching the other day go ahead and do yourself a favor and watch it. A great use of 5 minutes.

  6. Jake

    I like Bruce but he needs to adjust. I’ve seen it too many times this year. Down 0-2. Pitcher throws breaking ball, Bruce takes a big hack and strikes out. He’s a great hitter when he’s on a hot streak but we have yet to see that this year

      • Kevin J. Brown

        No, but they are a bit higher than his career average and have been trending up. He’s also not walking as much as he did in his best years.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Just because Bruce’s K’s are not out of line from last year, that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need to adjust. Last year’s K’s were way too much for a major league batter.

  7. Citizen54

    I can’t believe people are using a .260 to justify Jay as an average hitter. What is this 1980? At least use OPS. Ya he hasn’t been very good this year but for his career he has been well above average.

  8. lwblogger2

    I think the shift has also affected his BABIP. I’d have to do a lot more digging to find out how much.

    • Kevin J. Brown

      He has a higher BABIP than his career average on ground balls, so I’m not sure what evidence there is to support that supposition. His line drive BABIP is quite a bit lower, however.

      • lwblogger2

        That would rule out the shift really being the issue.

  9. bigjuxberg

    Nothing in the article about Jay’s approach this season– how he wanted to be more selective with regard to WHICH strikes he swings at… basically trying to be Joey Votto and only swing at his “sweet spot” pitches.

    Problem is, pitchers generally ain’t pitching Jay middle-in/belt-high.

    So he’s been taking the middle-away belt-high fastball for strike one, fouling off a curveball and he’s 0-2 nearly every time.

    Instead, he needs to understand that he will get that middle-away heater a lot.. and there’s nobody on the left side of the field… so JUMP ON IT like Sir Mix-a-Lot, Jay!