Ken Rosenthal recently reported that the Reds could deal Jay Bruce at this year’s deadline. Under the right circumstances and with a reasonable return, I think that could be a good thing. But I contend that it only makes sense if the Reds are willing to do a complete fire sale, including selling high on Todd Frazier. For those of us foolishly holding out hope that the Reds can compete in the next couple years, Votto, Frazier, Mesoraco, and Bruce are key. As Mike wrote yesterday, the core is there. Dealing one of those guys essentially ends all hope of a Reds rebound.

And quite frankly, I’m nervous about the Reds dealing Bruce right now. I would support it in the right deal, but Bruce is in the midst of the greatest tease of his career.

If Jay Bruce was going to improve as a hitter over his solid 2010-2013 run, what would it look like? You could argue that he needs to hit the ball with more authority to left field, and he probably does need to do more of that. But the change that would improve Bruce the most is simply making more contact by striking out less.

He has always hit the ball hard. That’s never been a problem. But his strikeout rate has risen every season since 2009. If he was ever going to take another step forward, he would need to stop getting himself out so frequently. This change would likely result in more walks, less strikeouts, and more contact.

Jay Bruce had terrible results for the first five weeks of the 2015 season. In a career of epic ups and downs, Bruce endured maybe the worst stretch of his career. Even his injury influenced 2014 season wasn’t as poor as his numbers were from Opening Day (April 6th) until May 14. During that time frame, Bruce slashed .162/.272/.333 with five homeruns. His runs created score stood at 64, which is essentially Billy Hamilton territory right now.

Many fans understandably called for his benching or a trade. Some swore he was part of an evil plot to ruin the Reds. Others claimed he was harming the pets of innocent children on off days. Along with Kevin Gregg, Jason Marquis, and Bryan Price, Bruce was the face of Reds fans’ rage. But Bruce’s peripherals suggested he was better than his results would indicate, and Bryan Price remained steadfast in keeping Bruce in the lineup, even if Price did move him down to the seven spot.

Then it happened. The hot streak finally came. While some fans wisely warned that it would last only two to three weeks (because we’ve seen this movie before), he’s continued to hit for seven weeks and counting. From May 16th until July 7, Bruce hit .299/.382/.533 with seven homeruns. He slugged 24 extra base hits and produced 149 wRC+ during that time span. For over half the season, Bruce hasn’t just been good, he’s been excellent.

The difference in results is dramatic. Bruce went from playing like one of the worst offensive outfielders in baseball to playing like one of the best. And he did both for an extended period of time. Several factors seem to have contributed to Bruce’s turnaround and extended success. Many of these factors we haven’t seen from Bruce during his career. Here are a few notables.

bruce

And there it is. The biggest change I see is that Bruce drastically reduced his strikeout rate. Bruce’s lowest strikeout rate in a season where he played at least 130 games is 23.7%. For comparison sake, Todd Frazier has struck out at a higher percentage than Bruce during this seven week run, and Frazier has done some major damage during that time as well.

His strikeout rate has dropped in part because he has swung and missed much less, which has led to a significant bump in his contact rate. His career contact% is 73.2%, so he has outperformed that mark lately by quite a bit. In 2015, Bruce has the highest contact rate of his career, mostly because of his current run.

And Bruce hasn’t just made more contact during his long hot streak, he has made better contact. While he hit the ball hard during his early season struggles, he hit more groundballs and less line drives. Since the middle of May, the line drives have increased. Bruce has hit .208 on groundballs this season but .700 on line drives, so hitting more line drives has led to a climb in his batting average.

The most encouraging part of Bruce’s extended run in that he has experienced normal ebbs and flows of production. He has gone hitless in three games in a row twice (though he walked at least once in four of those games), and both times it didn’t spiral into a prolonged slump. In his last 19 games, he only has three hitless games, and one of those he walked in two out of three plate appearances. He has played extremely consistently for a longer stretch than we usually see from him.

The one negative is that Bruce’s power is slightly down. He is only on pace for 24 homeruns and has hit homeruns at a smaller rate per fly ball than any point in his career. While that could change with one big power week, Bruce has not hit a homerun since June 23. He is, however, tied for the the second most extra base hits on the team with Joey Votto.

The question we should be asking ourselves has drastically changed since mid May. In mid May, we could fairly ask whether Bruce would ever return to form. Now, after seven consecutive weeks of production, we need to ask the following: has Bruce improved as a hitter this year? Is his current run sustainable?

Bruce’s strikeout and swing and miss rates are the lowest since his injury shortened season of 2009. His walk rate is the highest of his career. His contact rate is the highest of his career. We are seeing Bruce do things at the plate that we haven’t seen him do in the past.

Is it a mirage? Maybe. I’m not ready to say that this is who he is. He could easily go on a strikeout binge and return to the streaky hitter of the past. Last night wasn’t a good sign and the type of performance that has quickly spiraled south in the past. But Bruce has seemingly improved in the areas that caused him the most trouble as a hitter throughout his career. If he was going to improve, the last seven weeks, coupled with a career high walk rate, is exactly what it would look like.

Watching Bruce for the rest of the season will be interesting. If he continues to take walks and avoid strikeouts, we will likely see his numbers continue to rise, possibly to levels we haven’t seen before. If he returns to his swing and miss ways, we can expect another prolonged slump and more frustration.

Which brings me back to an earlier statement: I’m nervous about the idea of trading him. Maybe he isn’t improved. Maybe Bruce turns back into a pumpkin soon. But I’d rather the Reds let it play out the rest of the season and revisit the idea during the winter. If this is the Bruce of the next few years, I’d rather not sell relatively low and watch him mash in another uniform.

32 Responses

  1. garym6059

    Jay boy is the most frustrating Red of my lifetime, but I could never hate him! Saw him hit his first career AAA homer in Louisville, saw the 2010 walk off division winner, saw him take Kershaw deep twice. That being said when he is going bad it’s no fun.

  2. WVRedlegs

    Nothing against Rosenthal, but I just don’t believe this report. Complete non-sense. Great write up on Bruce, Nick.

  3. Scott Carter

    Near the end of the article Nick says “Last night wasn’t a good sign and the type of performance that has quickly spiraled south in the past.” That is true Bruce looked bad last night but then again everybody but Byrd looked bad against Fernandez

    • Frogger

      Not a huge Puig fan, but Cueto and Chapmen for him would be a good deal. He is under team control for another 6 years I think.

      • WVRedlegs

        I’m not a big fan either, but appreciate what he can do on the field. He is signed through 2018 season.
        He fits the Reds budget, 2015 $4.5M, ’16 $5.5M, ’17 $6.5M, ’18 $7.5M.

      • azredsfan

        Cueto for Puig straight up or throw in Parra for Bollinger ( starter from LA). Keep Chapman and rebuild the set up guys. Trade off Bruce for a second starter/ bull pen guy. Leake for a ML ready starter. Alfredo Simon is a free agent next season, he could be signed for a reasonable contract. If the Reds do a total rebuild, I for on will be disappointed. Time for Walt to earn his money.

    • msanmoore

      Oh I’d have to puke in the back of my mouth a bit for quite some time … but you can’t deny Puig’s talent. And he can mash the ball. Do we dare dream?

    • redmountain

      Yeah, lets put Puig in there his defense is stellar. Talk about inconsistent…

  4. reaganspad

    Bruce is 40 HR guy waiting to happen.

    trade him and he goes into the Josh Hamilton/Frank Robinson class of hey we had him on our team before he was this good.

    The swing rate and strike outs are key. His swing is so sweet. That bomb in DC off the scoreboard looked like he was taking a practice swing. It was money

    • Frogger

      I aggree. His best years are in front of him. Keep him until next year this time and trade him then if the team doesn’t see competing in 2017.

      • lwblogger2

        That makes more sense to me actually. Of course, right now I think the Reds need to at least listen to offers on anyone.

    • IndyRedMan

      Yeah….about the only way is if its for someone else like Edwin Scissorhands. You can’t build a winner around a guy that’s an auto out for months at a time

      • Michael E

        Bingo! No matter how well he mashes for a few weeks or a month, he so terribly inconsistent (and usually bad longer than good) and that doesn’t win in MLB. Consistency in pitching and hitting wins.

      • Steve Mancuso

        You should try reading the posts.

  5. UglyStrike

    If you are going to trade Bruce (which I think would be a huge mistake) then you should get rid of all the starters this year. Accept our 5 years of being a doormat and hope some of the prospects acquired develop by then.

    In another thread I called for dealing TF which was a mistake on my part as I thought he was much older than he is right now.

    A core group of:
    Bruce
    Votto
    BH
    TF
    Mez
    either of the two Shortstops works well moving the other one to second base

    This gives us a very solid group to build on and “possibly” compete with next year, but realistically probably in 2017.

    Trade Cueto, Leake, and Chapman for couple of plug and play players plus some almost ready starting pitchers.

    Trade Byrd and BP to anyone that will take them.

    This is my thought. I think a “fire” sale is not needed nor should be accepted by the fans. We do have some pieces that we need to get a return on before they are lost. A couple of pieces that need to move on down the road just to improve the team. I am and have always been a fan of BP and actually believe that signing Byrd was a solid move. However neither can be counted on for 2017 and that is the magic year in my opinion.

    • Tom Gray

      Correct. Trade ALL of them. Get MiLB prospects in return. Rebuild for 3-5 years. And maybe Reds “fans” would shut up and be satisfied then.

      I doubt it.

  6. WVRedlegs

    Fay reports that Iglesias will pitch tomorrow night in place of DeSclafani. DeSclafani pulled a butt muscle and is out. Thats one for the books.

    • lwblogger2

      That means Smith is still in the rotation… for now.

      • RedAlert

        And that will be a complete farce if true – he has shown that he can’t pitch at this level period ! – move on to another option Jokerty

      • redmountain

        He was sent to Pensacola. He would not be able to be recalled yet would he? He has to stay for ten days

      • lwblogger2

        Yes, that is correct. Unless there is an injury… My mistake… I also forgot about the break. The Reds won’t need a 5th starter for a while.

  7. RedAlert

    I’m not on board with a complete fire sale – sends a very , very, bad message to fan base- don’t believe a complete rebuild is necessary

    • Tom Gray

      Agreed with what you say BUT the Reds should do it anyway just to shut the “fans” up.

  8. deltaxray468

    Two words: Paul O’Neil. I think Bruce needs to stay. Obviously, he’s got about a month every season where he turns into Babe Ruth. But this time seems different. He seems like he’s cut power to improve contact and reduce strikeouts. And he’s walking more. I wonder if the knee caused him to change his approach and he’s finally working out he bugs of that new approach.

    I like next years team. I’m excited about the young, cost controlled starting pitchers. I’m excited about having meso back (catching or LF). I’m excited about Suarez (SS of LF). I’m excited about Hamilton getting on base more (and maybe not switch hitting). The freed up cash should help bolster the bullpen next year. And trading cueto and leake should help bring some young bats. There is a possible next year is good and were at the trade deadline trying to add a ACE for a playoff run. Know hope!

    • Tom Gray

      Good comparison. Reds gave up on O’Neill far too early. He was excellent as NY Yankee.

  9. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I will say, again, I have no problem trading any of them, period. But, for what? I don’t want a Houston Astros method of selling everyone and go with 3 straight 100+ loss seasons, 4 straight 90+ loss seasons, before we ever see winning again. I still want to see us at least competitive, aka be a 500 team give or take.

    Trade, making sure of two things:

    1) Do we have a “plan B” for that position? For instance, if we trade Bruce, do we have someone ready to step into that position for next season? Even if it’s a minor leaguer, do we believe they are ready; are we going to commit to them?

    2) Maybe/maybe not dependent on that, it has to be a trade that is good for us, period. It can’t be just a salary dump. We still need to be a competitive club afterwards.

    This is what’s worrying me about next season. For, if we do lose both Leake and Cueto, with Bailey probably not going to be ready at the start of next season, we are looking at Lorenzen, DeSc, Iglesias, and Moscot as our top 4 starters (who’s going to be the 5th? Will Stephenson be ready?). That doesn’t make me comfortable. If we do lose both, we essentially commit ourselves to free agency next season for starting pitching, I believe, unless we get some major league starters back in a trade, which I don’t see happening. Maybe something like trading Leake for a right fielder and Bruce for a starting pitcher, or something like that? A package of two trades that would cover both positions?

  10. Steve Schoenbaechler

    As for Bruce, I was seeing that a couple of weeks ago. He’s really stepped it up. And, I believe it’s because he’s quit hitting for the fences so much. It seems like he may have concentrated on compacting his swing a bit, just concentrating on making contact, etc. Or, trying to go with the pitch some more, aka if outside, he will take it to the opposite field. For instance, in the May 17 time frame till now, his HR pace would be for only about 24 HR’s. And, that’s during a good hitting streak for him. And, like yesterday, I believe 3 of his 4 hits were to left field.

    I said this before about Bruce. Like how some pitchers in the minors, how they get by in the minors by simply throwing the ball, but once they get up here, they have to learn how to pitch, I believe it may have finally gotten to Bruce. Where, he may have gotten through the minors on minor league pitching and, lack of better word, “hacking” at the ball. But, once up here, hackers have to actually learn how to hit the ball.

  11. Dillon Atkinson (@DAtkinsonOU)

    Hey Nick,

    I write for an Orioles-based blogsite, and I am — at the very least — curious about a potential Jay Bruce trade. Any idea on what you would want in return for Bruce, if he is traded?

    Thanks.