[This post was written by Jux Berg, who has his own website at Bergonsports.com and @bergonsports on Twitter. Thanks, Jux. — spm]
Although it would be wildly unpopular in Reds country, Cincinnati may be better off in 2015 and beyond if Jay Bruce is traded to the Houston Astros this winter.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Bruce is an all-or-nothing hitter.
As weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen in this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s MLB playoffs (and for years from our chief rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals), in this day and age of defensive metrics and Sandy Koufaxish relievers, the best teams score runs against top notch pitching through Ã¢â‚¬Å“survivalÃ¢â‚¬Â and peskiness at the plate. By survival, I mean:
- Gaining an edge by making an adjustment in approach for each pitcher
- Laying off pitches early in the count that you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a good chance of driving
- Being ready to rip the first pitch if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in your wheelhouse or in a somewhat-predictable location
- Possessing the ability to foul off pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitches with two strikes until you work a walk or get a pitch to square up
- Being willing and able to shorten your swing in the interest of your team
San Francisco and Kansas City sport lineups stocked with hitters who meet the Ã¢â‚¬Å“survivalÃ¢â‚¬Â criteria. Jay Bruce does not fit the mold. Bruce routinely falls behind in counts by taking strikes he could drive the other way (a.k.a. the side of the field where defenders are scarce) and gives away at-bats by swinging at pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitches early in the count. His two-strike approach is abysmal, as he lacks both the ability to foul off tough pitches and the willingness to shorten his stride and swing.
Translation: Although Bruce has big-time power, his inconsistency at making solid contact and his subpar strikeouts-to-walks ratio (just under 3:1) costs the Reds possible rallies and diminishes scoring chances. Having a guy like Bruce in the middle of your lineup simply does not work in todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s baseball.
In 2013, Bruce bashed 30 home runs and 43 doubles. But he also fanned 185 times. All or nothing. In that final stretch when the Reds dropped five of six to the Mets and Pirates at home and then lost the one-game playoff in Pittsburgh, Bruce went 3-for-24.
2. BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contract
$12 million in Ã¢â‚¬â„¢15, $12.5 in Ã¢â‚¬â„¢16 and a team option of $13 mil in 2017 is both a good chunk for the Reds to spend elsewhere and not an amount that would necessarily scare a team with a lower-tier payroll.
The Houston Astros havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t spent much during the past three-plus seasons while the organization has decided to virtually start from scratch. If Walt Jocketty called A.J. Hinch to offer a 28-year-old hometown hero with two Silver Sluggers, two Top-10 MVP finishes and three years left on his contract, Hinch would have to entertain the idea.
3. Bruce is streaky
The danger with a guy that goes hot and cold is that if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cold when you have a key player or two out with injuries, your offense is, well, see 2014.
And why is Bruce so streaky? Scroll back up to the five elements of a solid approach. He simply does not employ those attributes. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re fightinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and scrappinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ every at-bat, especially with two strikes, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll put enough balls in play to avoid prolonged slumps.
4. Pitchers have figured Bruce out; and he has yet to adjust
If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m pitching to Jay Bruce, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not that complicated. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll start him off with a heater on the outside corner, and he will let it go by. Then IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll come back with a tough breaking ball that bites down and in on him, and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll either foul it off, whiff, or chop it into the shift. If he fouls it off or whiffs, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m ahead 0-and-2. I ainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t throwing him anything good now. Elevated fastballs, sinkers away, sliders in the dirt, change-ups in the dirt.
Had Bruce adjusted, he would understand that A) pitchers love to start him off with a get-ahead fastball on the outer half and B) the defensive shift is inviting him to punch a line-drive or ground ball in a nice, fat 30-foot window from the third base bag and in. He would go up there ready to put a short, easy stroke on that middle-away fastball, and rake in the opposite field knocks until opposing managers scrap the shift.
But, alas, Bruce has continued with his approach, which is centered on getting something down the middle or on the inner half so he can drive the ball out of the ballpark or into the right-center field gap. The problem: Even if Bruce works a good at-bat, gets his wheelhouse pitch and squares it up, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good chance heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll hit a rocket ground ball into right fieldÃ¢â‚¬Â¦directly to the second baseman.
Either Bruce modifies his power stroke into a controlled opposite field poke, or we continue to see a bunch of strikeouts, slumps and killed rallies.
5. Houston is loaded with prospects
Baseball Prospectus ranks HoustonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s farm system in the Top 5 in terms of depth and talent. The Reds should be able to get back three players for a guy with Jay BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s track record, above average defense and age. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to see the Reds land an outfielder and two potential relief pitchers if possible.
6. Houston is in the American League now
First of all, I respect Jay Bruce. I want to make that clear. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wish him ill. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I suggest Houston as his destination. It allows him to play ball about an hour and half drive from his hometown of Beaumont, Texas.
And, if the kid does figure it out at the plate, it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come back to haunt the Reds unless they meet Houston in the World Series someday.