For people on the wrong end of their 20s like myself, the fact that Jay Bruce is entering his eighth season in the majors puts a whole new meaning to the idiom “time flies.”

Let’s take a step back for a second and reevaluate Bruce’s path to the big leagues. The Beaumont, Texas, native was the 12th pick in an absolutely loaded first round of 2005 draft. Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen were selected prior to Bruce. Cliff Pennington, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza and Colby Rasmus were taken after Bruce. Ricky Romero, Mike Pelfrey and Cameron Maybin were also first-round picks in 2005. That’s some serious talent.

After signing on June 10, 2005, Bruce annihilated mostly everything in sight during his stint in the minors, slashing .308/.366/.551 in over 1,500 minor league plate appearances. Named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2007 as well as the minors’ No. 1 prospect prior to the 2008 season by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, Bruce reached Triple-A by his age-20 season.

The 6-3, 215-pound lefty outfielder made his major-league debut on May 27, 2008, and as the kids would say, “crushed it” in the interim, smacking 11 hits in his first 19 at-bats. Bruce’s first home run was a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 10th inning vs. the Atlanta Braves four days after his debut, a round-tripper that overshadowed Ken Griffey Jr.’s 599th home run earlier in the contest.

Fast forward nearly seven years, and Bruce has accumulated a pair of All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards and three 30-home run campaigns.

In nearly 4,000 career plate appearances, Bruce’s 162-game averages are as follows:

663 PA | 30 2B | 31 HR | .251 AVG | .323 OBP | .467 SLG | .790 OPS

We know that in 2014, Bruce missed only two weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on May 6. He played through post-surgery issues with the knee and suffered through a lost season, finishing with career-lows in batting average, home runs, isolated power, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and weighted runs created plus. The following quote from the above linked piece by MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon is telling:

“It’s been miserable. It’s honestly been the most embarrassing year of my life,” Bruce said late last August. “But I know this isn’t me. It’s definitely humbling, not that I needed to be more humbled by anything. I feel like I’m pretty self-aware and have some humility.

“It’s just one of those things. You have to find a way to take some positive out of it to get better. I think this is going to make me better.”

Late last month, Reds manager Bryan Price expressed regret about how the team handled Bruce’s rehab. [Somewhere, Mat Latos nods]. Now, Bruce claims he is 100 percent and refused to blame his woeful 2014 campaign on his knee injury, which, while noble, is a bit ridiculous.

We know Bruce is going to be better in 2015 — but by how much? My projections for Bruce in 2015:

155 G | 642 PA | 32 2B | 30 HR | .263 AVG | .338 OBP | .480 SLG | .811 OPS

To arrive at my projections — which, of course, assume a healthy 2015 for Bruce — I removed the 2008 (Bruce wasn’t called up until late May), 2009 (Bruce missed two months with a broken wrist) and 2014 (self-explanatory at this point) seasons and factored in Bruce’s 2009-13 campaigns. I then averaged out those four seasons — Bruce doesn’t turn 28 until April 3, so there’s no reason to believe he’s in decline or susceptible to major age-related regression — and arrived at the above numbers, which admittedly came out on the optimistic side of things. However, I split the difference on slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage with my numbers and Jason Linden’s projections because I felt my calculations in those two categories were a bit too optimistic.

With a handy assist from from Steve Mancuso’s Big Reds Preview, one can pinpoint a pair of disturbing trends with Bruce’s numbers: a strikeout rate that has escalated in each of the past five seasons and a walk rate that has decreased over the past four years.

Furthermore, Bruce’s ground ball rate skied almost nine percentage points from 2013 to a career-high 45 percent last season, but as Fangraphs.com’s Eno Sarris noted earlier this week, that spike was almost assuredly injury-related.

Take a look at the following isolated power heat maps for Bruce. The first map is from the beginning of Bruce’s major-league career through 2013. The second is from 2014.

JayBruce0813HeatMap

JayBruce14HeatMap

Through 2013, Bruce walloped just about anything in the strike zone. Last season…not so much. It’s pretty hard to argue that Bruce’s 2014 decline was anything but injury-related. As Sarris noted, the injury to Bruce’s back leg — which would’ve been his injured left leg while standing at the plate — robbed Bruce of his power and resulted in him pounding the ball into the ground like he was a souped-up version of David Eckstein.

So, aside from the return of good health, I believe stable contact peripherals, a wake-up call provided from the doldrums of 2014 and a proper perspective of the defensive shifts employed against him will vault Bruce back into his usual atmosphere of being one of the National League’s top power threats in 2015.

10 Responses

  1. gaffer

    I think one big effect on Jay will be whether the umpires get the memo to actually call the real strike zone this year. If they call balls low and away strikes again this year, he is in trouble.

    • Frogger

      Good point. I am very tired of the bs strikes by righty pitchers on lefty hitters. The pitch that starts way inside and tales back to the indised corner is a strong pitch, and it doesn’t need umps calling stikes that do not cross the plate. The same exact pitch is used on the outside corner from righties. If both are strikes the plate must be 28 inches wide. Anyone with eye sight can see it is not a strike. Jay swings at enough balls out of the zone. He has no chance if those calls are being made.

  2. Tom Reed

    Jay’s offense should improve if he doesn’t try to pull those pitches on the outside of the plate and instead hits to all fields.

  3. preacherj

    I will take a .263 avg with 30 HR’s happily. Add that to his defense, this guy will be able to carry this team for stretches at a time.

  4. WVRedlegs

    Anything over a .240 BA for Bruce will be gravy. Bruce will be at around a .265-.270 when he does his annual 4-6 week disappearing act. At what point of the season does that occur will be the big question surrounding Bruce.

    • reaganspad

      I predict that Jay will hit 10 HRs during his annual 4-6 week disappearing act. I thought he would hit 40 last year before his injury.

      Jay is finding LF which is the key for him. The double off the batters eye in dead CF and the HF to the same CF area shows me that he is looking to use the whole field.

      Jay is a lot better after he watches Joey hit. it will be a good year

  5. Steve Schoenbaechler

    It’s the same as with Votto. With how the team did last year, with as poor as Bruce was last season, if Bruce can simply get back to somewhere around his “baseball card”, it would be about as good a FA pickup or “player we could get in a trade” as we could get. But, I’ve pretty much given up Bruce having his breakout year. And, what I’m calling breakout here is more along the lines of his minor league baseball card, not what he’s done on his major league card. If he stays at his major league card one more season, I could easily see Winker and/or Waldrop replacing him sooner than later.

    • brmreturns

      Because a 31hr/92rbi guy is so easy to find? Bruce will hold his spot as long as he is a Red, if he gets those numbers yearly. Yes, his BA and OBP leave something to be desired, but he is also a 790 OPS’er.

      • lwblogger2

        I agree. You get that MLB OPS around .800 and you’re a pretty darn strong hitter. I think Winker is going to be a hitter. I think Waldrop is going to be a 4th OF. Even Winker though, might fall short of that .800 OPS mark many times in his career. Bruce’s career numbers suggest boarderline All-Star in a lot of years. He’s not been the uber-star that was predicted of him but he’s a very good MLB player and I see at least a few more All-Star games in his future, even if he never wins an MVP.

  6. lwblogger2

    I’m loving these “What to Expect” articles. I was going to do a position-by-position for the NL central and submit it but first of all, the projections from the writers have been great, and secondly, I have been very time limited. I don’t even have all the Reds projections yet. Sooooo, probably not going to happen.

    Great work on these pieces guys!