The baseball season is a long, difficult journey. Players inevitably face ups and downs to various degrees. Just ask the Reds big three of Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto. As Steve wrote last week, all have experienced prolonged slumps. Even so, all three have strong numbers to this point unless you think batting average is the defining offensive stat, which it isn’t.

Baseball is a constant series of adjustments. Joey Votto made changes to his swing over the All-Star break and his subsequent tear has put him in the top five in wRC+ in all of baseball (164). These adjustments differentiate the average players from the good ones and the good ones from the great ones. Right now, Jay Bruce is in need of an adjustment and may be in the middle of doing so.

Bruce had arguably the best elongated stretch of his career from May 16th until August 1st of this season. Over 270 plate appearances, Bruce batted .308/.378/.570 with a 154 wRC+. Only six players in all of baseball have a wRC+ of over 154 on the season. For 64 games, Bruce was a top ten hitter in the major leagues.

During this stretch, Bruce only struck out 17.8% of the time. For a guy with a career 24.3% strikeout rate, that is significant improvement.

Back on July 10th, I wrote an article highlighting Bruce’s run to that point. The article emphasized Bruce’s improved plate discipline as a reason to be optimistic that he could continue his run in some capacity. I also offered a warning:

“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.”

And unfortunately that warning has proven somewhat true. Through the Reds first twelve games in August, Bruce has struggled mightily. So far, he has struck out 32.7% of the time with only two walks. His .160/.192/.340 slash line paints an ugly picture. It’s only twelve games and doesn’t mean much yet, but my fear for Bruce’s August rests in something more substantial.

It started in July. While many in Reds country were rightfully praising Bruce during an excellent month where he slashed .315/.360/.618, I was growing increasingly anxious about him. It was happening slowing, but it was still happening. Bruce’s plate discipline was eroding.

At the very core of plate discipline is the idea that players should swing at good pitches (usually strikes) and avoid swinging at poor pitches that will likely result in swings and misses or weak contact (usually balls). Seems simple enough. Swinging at better pitches typically leads to more and better contact, fewer strikeouts, and more walks. All good things.

The easiest way to explain Bruce’s (hopefully temporary) plate discipline erosion is to go back to the beginning of his 11 week elite stretch. Bruce started hitting like an All-Star on May 16th. From that time until the end of June, Bruce swung at 30.1% of pitches outside the zone. The league swings at just over 31% of such pitches, meaning Bruce was slightly better than average during this time period.

This plate discipline helped lead to all kinds of good outcomes. Bruce had a 12.7% walk rate and only struck out 16.9% of the time.  He slashed .299/.386/.528 with 7 homeruns. Notice how the OBP is almost 90 points higher than the batting average. He swung and missed only 9% of the time, which is just  slightly better than league average. These peripherals are/were reason to think that Bruce could be improved as a hitter.

Then July came, and Bruce continued to destroy opponent’s pitching. But he did it a different way. In July, he swung at over 37% of pitches outside the strike zone, significantly more than he did from mid May until the end of June. He stopped walking (6%) and swung and missed over 12% of the time. While Bruce didn’t strike out an obscene amount (19%), he was clearly beginning to expand the zone more. He raked for the entire month, but long term, I feared his aggressive ways would catch up to him.

And here we are in August. In the first nine games, Bruce continues to swing at pitches outside the zone, swing and miss, and strikeout. He has walked twice.

Swinging at poor pitches has also led Bruce to hit more groundballs this month than line drives or fly balls. And Bruce has hit .183 on groundballs this season. Poor plate discipline leads to weaker contact.

Pitchers have adjusted to Bruce’s aggressive approach and made him pay. Previously, Bruce was willing to take a walk if he didn’t get a pitch to drive. In early August, he seemingly hasn’t seen a pitch he could resist and has felt the consequences.

The last few games against the Padres were better, and Bruce may be adjusting back to a more disciplined approach. For example, on Tuesday against the Padres, Bruce swung at zero pitches outside of the strike zone. He went hitless (hitting a rocket line drive right at someone), but he didn’t swing and miss at all. He also went to a 3-2 count in his first at bat on Wednesday and proceeded to Triple in two runs. In his next at bat, he walked. Unfortunately, he swung at several bad pitches last night against our old buddy, Mat Latos.

We should not overreact to a week and a half of games. Most players go through stretches like this over the course of a season. Bruce could easily right the ship over the next week and be fine That’s baseball. Pitchers adjust to hitters, and hitters adjust right back.

Bruce has proven he can command the strike zone as a hitter, and if he wants to have more consistent success, he needs to return to his patient ways. It’s not that he can’t get hot while swinging at more pitches outside the zone, it’s that he likely won’t be able to sustain success that way.

When Bruce doesn’t get himself out, he is a borderline elite offensive player as he showed for two and a half straight months this season. When he starts expanding the zone, he eventually goes into hitting funks. It seems like a simple adjustment when you’ve shown you can do it. But adjustments are hard when someone is throwing 95 with a sharp breaking ball. Let’s hope Bruce rights the ship quickly.

53 Responses

  1. james garrett

    I like what Bruce has done and was against him being traded because of it.Willingness to change as a hitter while still young is very rare and he should be applauded.As you stated he back slide for awhile but I believe he is on track again.

      • Michael E

        We can only hope…tired of waiting for Bruce to become a consistent MLB hitter.

  2. VaRedsFan

    I remember Bruce commenting on previous hot streaks with “I’m getting better pitches to hit” So we/he all know his key to success. It’s just a matter of executing. It’s exactly what is so frustrating for everyone about Jay Bruce. He knows what he needs to do and then does the exact opposite.

    Lets just hopes he snaps out this little 2 week valley, instead of continuing to abide by the swing at everything approach.

  3. Yippee

    Bruce is the Andy Dalton of the Reds. Gets the job done but can be frustrating to watch for long stretches of time. For what the Reds are paying him, he’s a good value to the team. I would call him “streaky”, but we’re not allowed to call him that anymore. But he is what he is. A career .251 hitter with power who strikes out too much, plays above average right field, and has one sweet rockabilly hairdo.

      • ohiojimw

        If Fellaini played in this country and the sport was as big as elsewhere, there undoubtedly be some sort of ruckus the likes of Deflategate as to whether somehow he was using that hair or something obscured by it to achieve an unfair advantage at heading.

    • RedsDownUnderer

      Last night I caught him flip his hair back before putting on his helmet (the cameras were on him in the dugout), and it was glorious. Maybe as part of the new TV deal they can get one camera to follow Jay and his hair throughout the entire game.

  4. susan WILTSHIRE

    Votto hasn’t had a prolonged stretch his worse is 0 for 14

  5. james garrett

    Bruce already produces at an above average rate.Hopefully he will continue to improve his avg and obp and then we can extend him at a reasonable price.His production doesn’t grow on trees and he has said he wants to remain a Red,Maybe it can be a win win for all.

    • Michael E

      His total stats are okay, not great. He isn’t getting any better and that is the bottom line. He will NOT sign reasonably. Reasonably would be about $10 million per with his so-so stats.

      His inconsistency, long slump, then shorter hot streak, followed by another long slump (EVERY year) is not conducive to a winning team. We can’t keep waiting for him to hit a hot streak at the right time (like the playoffs or September).

  6. Michael J. Hampton

    Votto’s hair is no longer elite.

  7. Scot Lykins

    I do not get the fascination with Bruce and his streak hitting. If I was GM he would have been the first player gone. Ahead of Cueto and Leake! His inconsistency is cancerous. And yet this site just keeps writing about him like he is a star. (And he is for the streak he will get on at times.) But he will inevitably sink back into the mire. He and Marlon Byrd have very similar numbers and yet no praise for his .241 average.But Bruce gets high praise for his .243 ????? Because he hit under .200 so long he had to hit like a star just to get his numbers back even with Byrd’s.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Judging a baseball player based on batting average is like judging a car based on it’s leg room.

      • Scot Lykins

        BA is meaningless stat I guess, except come contract time. Byrd’s SLG% is .458. Bruce has a .463. Bruce has a OBP of .321 and Byrd has a .297. Byrd does not let the bat sit long on his shoulder.

      • Steve Mancuso

        No one says batting average is meaningless. If you think general managers and agents negotiate over batting average, you’re living in the past.

      • Michael E

        Okay, so what do they negotiate over? Bruce being nice to his mom? Bruce striking out like a little league hitter more often than not? Bruce pulling everything on the ground into the shift? I suppose those four or five weeks of mashing help offset the two months of being one of the worst hitters in baseball.

        Batting average tells us ALOT about Bruce. That he is merely an average hitter (poor BA offset by solid power). The thing is, he is paid to be better than that and is in his prime. This is all Bruce will ever be, a team-killer for two months, followed by a month of raking and another two months of Superman snorting kryptonite.

      • Steve Mancuso

        You probably would have to look up how much Bruce is getting paid and how much his value is. When you did that, you’d see that he’s been worth vastly more than he’s been paid.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        What stat would you like to compare, Steve? For, considering qualified RF on Fangraphs, I could pick one where Bruce is close to last in (BA or runs scored) or one where Bruce is close to first in (BB%), both ways essentially being meaningless unto themselves. Considering WAR, Bruce seems to be right in the middle of the pack. If each point of WAR was worth, what was it, $5 million, we are drastically overpaying for Bruce, which would make it not a very friendly contract.

        I’m not saying Bruce is or isn’t good or bad. But, rather than telling people to prove their point, you could also stand to apparently prove your point as well.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I’ve made these points, with data, many times. Point of comparison isn’t RF, it’s all hitters. wRC+ or OPS+ or any other overall measure of hitting that captures on base and power skills would work. In terms of WAR, his career WAR (average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference) is 16.4. Multiply that times $6.5 million (average WAR value over that time) and you get over $100 million in value. Bruce has been paid $38 million. Those numbers include 2014, his injured year.

      • Michael E

        $100 million in value? I got a good laugh out of that one Steve. I see why you love analytics so much, you can spin any mediocre player into a HOF’ef with a little magic dust and genie bottle.

        Bruce is NOT part of a winning team. Consistency means ALOT, maybe more than your conjured up “proof” of how good Jay Bruce is. The reason the Cards and Giants are always in it, they have consistent players. Bruce is a major reason we DON’T contend or win playoff series.

      • Michael E

        FYI, his wRC+ is 103, he is an average player. Thanks for pointing out this. If the hot streaks balanced out the cold streaks, I could stomach Bruce, but when the bad weeks outnumber the good weeks more than 2 to 1, no chance.

        4427 plate appearances and Jay Bruce is barely above average at 108 wRC+
        His OPS+ is 110, also just 10% better than an average hitter. This is not a great player.

        Worse yet, it is propped up greatly by two really good seasons 2010 and 2013, while the other 6 seasons have been less than stellar.

        I suppose the good news is, we’re overdue for a decent year in 2016. Maybe Bruce will finally wake up and be a consistent hitter? I’d think he is already three strikes and out, but if 2016 is no better, I hope we don’t even offer him a contract.

      • Michael E

        Any stat alone is meaningless. So tell us oh great one, what stat do you cherry pick to adore Bruce and his horribly inconsistent (more bad than good) hitting?

      • Steve Mancuso

        Your view of Bruce is straight outta Marty Brennaman, in other words, clueless. Bruce was the most consistent hitter in terms of season performance in baseball, other than his injury affected 2014. You can look at wRC+ or OPS+ – while it’s technically one stat, it compiles batting average, walks and weights power – and see that he’s been 20% better than league average from 2010-2013 and this year. We’ve published articles here recently that break down Bruce’s season based on several measurements and show he isn’t any more or less prone to “streakiness” than Todd Frazier has been (except that Bruce continues to provide value with walks during his slumps).

        Bruce was the only player in MLB to hit 30 home runs from 2011-2013. His walk rate and power have been good this year.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Actually, Steve M, according to Fangraphs and qualified RF’s in the entire league, Bruce is 13th out of 21 for this season in terms of wRC+. That’s not quite better than 20% of the average. Taking seasons 2010-2013, according to Fangraphs, Bruce is 20 out of 51 RF’s in the league. That makes him 10% better than the “median” RF in the league.

      • Steve Mancuso

        The relevant comparison isn’t to RF, it’s to all hitters. wRC+ is a 100-point based stat and adjusted to league average. That means when players have a 110 wRC- they are *by definition* 10 percent better than league average. Bruce’s wRC+ for 2010-2013 was 124, 119, 120, 116. That’s a remarkable consistency being 20 percent better than the average hitter. Bruce’s wRC+ was around that again this year until a few days ago. I suspect it will be around that level by season’s end.

      • VaRedsFan

        The relevant comparison isn’t to RF, it’s to all hitters.

        That way Bruce gets to use his stats against all of the light hitting infielders around the league.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Light hitters like Joey Votto and Todd Frazier. Good point.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        The thing is, Steve M., is if other teams are going to want Bruce, they aren’t going to play him at C, or SS, or 3rd base. They are going to play him in RF, or at minimum some OF position. So, one can easily make an argument that the comparison to “all hitters” isn’t a very good comparison.

        Second, you want to compare to all hitters? Alright. Bruce is better than 20% of the average? Well, according to Fangraphs for the qualified hitters, Bruce is 94th out of 155 in WAR. In xRC+, Bruce comes in at 69 out of 155. That’s better then 5.5% of the “median” player. If you consider what the “average wRC+” is, as in adding up all the players wRC+ and dividing by how many there are, that comes out to 108.9. Given Bruce’s wRC+, that puts him at right about the league average.

        You made the statement that Bruce “he’s been 20% better than league average . . . this year” with wRC+. Where is it? Are you talking per the players list? Per the actual stats? Median player? Median wRC+? This is why numbers never lie. They just never tell the entire story.

      • Steve Mancuso

        WAR isn’t a measure of just hitting

        wRC+ already expresses percentage difference

        Said that his wRC+ was around 120 until recently and expect it back there

        Info on asking price for Bruce was from reporters, example Zack Wheeler not enough

        You didn’t revisit the other points – consistency 2010-2013, his value of $100 million vs. salary of $38 million

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      You must remember, trading a player off means much more than just trading him off. You have to find a team willing to trade for that player, that team must have something you want, that team must be willing to give up those pieces, then finally all the i’s need to be dotted and t’s need to be crossed. Then, you have a trade. But, if you just do one single person at a time, you may never get anything done.

      It’s like taking a test. You don’t stop at question 5 and keep trying to get it done over and over, not even considering doing the rest of the questions until you get done with #5. You are supposed to still go on to the other questions and, if something comes up that assist with problem #5, then you can always go back to it.

      And, this could go with Bruce and Byrd. Did they want Bruce and Byrd? Did they want them enough to give up what we were asking for? Those are the parts we will never know.

      Oh, I understand what you mean very well. I was on the bandwagon to let Bruce and Byrd go myself. Especially Bruce. I was tired of seeing his “slump”. But, then, he finally started hitting. And, not only that, but it was a different style. During his “improvement”, he still wasn’t hitting for HR’s much. For example, during 64 games of it, if you just consider during that window, which besides last season, would have been his lowest season total since 2010. Yet, during that time, his line was 308/378/570. As well as, it seemed like he actually started to look to take balls the other way. It seemed like he was finally making an adjustment. I’m still not fully sold on him. He’s in another small slump right now. We will see where he goes with this. If he can bust it, I wouldn’t have a problem keeping him here for the rest of his contract. But, if he can’t bust it, then, again, he is what he is, a streaky hitter who will have prolonged times of good and bad.

      • Michael E

        The fact few teams really wanted Bruce tells most sane fans how to value Bruce. There are a few on here that overvalue Bruce greatly. And a few like me that probably undervalue Bruce (though not possibly to the same degree).

        I loved Bruce as a minor leaguer and a young player, but watching him never improve, year after year, and getting paid more… frustration has overtaken any shred of optimism.

        If a team will give us a good prospect or two, trade him, if not, keep him, play out the contract and let him move on…do not give him the same or more than he currently gets…he isn’t worth it. If he takes a pay cut, fine, pay him 8 or 9 million a year for 3 year deal and I am OKAY with it, so long as he no longer bats 3rd, 4th or 5th ever again.

      • Steve Mancuso

        You don’t have any proof that teams didn’t want Bruce. The Reds (rightly) were asking a lot for him.

        You wanted Bruce to be 50% better than average and he’s been 20% better than average. That’s your problem, not his. Bruce is playing on an extremely team-friendly contract.

        I think you’ve been enjoying your Saturday night too much.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Steve M, you don’t have any proof that a lot of teams did want Bruce nor that the Reds were rightly asking a lot for him.

        Bruc 20% better than average? That still may not be that good. Or, that may be really good. So, in what respect. For example, the average salary in baseball may be one number. However, that doesn’t mean that 50% of the players are getting paid higher/lower than that. In fact, there are a lot fewer players making higher than the average salary than there are players making lower than the average salary.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I wasn’t the one who used the word “fact” when discussing Bruce’s trade value.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        But, you did specify “The Reds (rightly) were asking a lot for him”. So, you apparently have an inside source. Just what were the Reds asking for Bruce from what club?

      • Michael E

        Bruce, he isn’t 20% better than average. You sure like to round up when it helps your argument, don’t you? Your own beloved stats show Bruce is an average player this year. Not terrible, not good. His beta (stock market lingo) is wildly high, meaning he is a zombie for months and rakes for a month and zombie again.

        You can have Bruce on your team. I prefer that my well paid players be consistent and good.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Funny, I seem to have said on here plenty of times before how the name of the major league game is making adjustments, from season to season, month to month, even game to game and even at bat to at bat especially when they are in slumps or something. And, that would include Votto. I got dissed by many if not most here.

    As far as what defines offensive numbers, that can be respective of the definer. For, a person may not want to use BA as an offensive stat, but it is, just like some try to use bat speed as a more defining offensive stat when it isn’t. But, when you say something like, “all three have strong numbers”, you should define those numbers. For, not all of their offensive numbers are strong. Now, I didn’t say they aren’t good offensive players or haven’t gotten better. I said “not all of their offensive numbers are strong”. Like with Bruce, a BA of 243 isn’t strong. But, when you consider he was at 162 earlier this season, he has improved a lot. An OBP of 321 from a player like Bruce from what we would expect from him, that would be a minimum of where he should be. So, I wouldn’t necessarily call it good. But, again, when he was so much lower earlier this season, he has improved a lot.

    • Nick Carrington

      Batting average is fine. But keep in mind that we have research that shows that the things that contribute to run scoring (what offense is all about) the most are how often a player gets on base and how much power they hit for (not just homeruns but all extra base hits). Batting average doesn’t do either of those things. But OBP and Slugging do. That’s why those and their combination (OPS) are more appropriate stats to evaluate a hitter because they better correlate with run scoring.

      I didn’t mean to say that batting average meant nothing, but you can have a good batting average and still have a below average offensive season, which says something about the flaws of that stat. If you have a good OPS, it’s hard to imagine having a bad season.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        “the things that contribute to run scoring (what offense is all about) the most are how often a player gets on base and how much power they hit for (not just homeruns but all extra base hits). Batting average doesn’t do either of those things”

        Actually, one of the ways they get on base is by actually getting a hit, something that would be shown in BA. I can easily make an argument that getting a walk, which would increase the OBP, wouldn’t help as much with run production as getting a hit would. Simple example, Hamilton on 2nd, Votto as the plate. Votto gets any kind of hit, which would help in OBP and BA, the Reds score a run. But, if you walk Votto, which helps his OBP but not his BA, Hamilton not only moves nowhere, but you also have a force set up at each base, not to mention no run was scored.

        That’s the thing with numbers. They never give information like what would be a pretty typical situation described here. Again, I love numbers, look at them a lot myself. But, they never tell the full story.

      • Steve Mancuso

        In 2015, every walk has been worth .685 of a run. Every single has been worth .881 of a run. Those are the numbers that (more accurately) tell the full story.

        Why do you think “numbers” couldn’t express the situation you describe? There are countless, detailed numbers about that situation.

        No one thinks a walk is always as good as a single. That’s setting up a phony argument to make it easy to knock down.

      • Nick Carrington

        Steve S, I think you proved my point with your first few sentences. Batting average is valuable as it relates to OBP. Of course it is better to have a good batting average because it is one way of getting on base. OBP is just a more complete stat than batting average because it tells all of the ways in which a player gets on base and doesn’t make outs including hits.

        The other biggest factor (there are others) is power. Steve M mentioned what a walk and single have been worth this season. A double is worth more and a triple more than that. Obviously a homerun means at least one full run. You put together how often a player gets on base (hits, walks, HBP, etc.) and couple it with the amount of power they contribute, and you have a good idea of what that player is contributing to run scoring.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Only specifying, Nick. For, you said “Batting average doesn’t do either of those things”.

      • Nick Carrington

        Not by itself it doesn’t. It only specifies a piece of it as you are saying, and I never said it wasn’t a piece of one of those things. Just that it was incomplete.

      • Scot Lykins

        Well, based on your analysis, OBP and SLG% are “appropriate stats” to evaluate a player; so Byrd and Bruce are interchangeable !!!!!! Thank you for making my point. (They also have he same BA, but that is a meaningless stat around here, but they sure do come in handy in a game.)

      • Steve Mancuso

        Bruce’s OBP is .320 and Marlon Byrd’s is .288. Not interchangeable.

  9. Art Wayne Austin

    Steve, batting average has served the game well. In my day Llyod Merriman and Bobby Henrich were great prospects for the Reds but major league pitching was too much for them. Bruce is the “Natural” or a bum at the plate. Tell me why he can’t be confident and aggressive at the plate all the time? The fans are getting impatient.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I honestly don’t understand a single sentence in that paragraph.

    • greenmtred

      Are you, like other people posting here, expressing frustration with Bruce’s “streakiness?” He is streaky, and it can be frustrating. The thing is, I suspect that very few hitters wouldn’t look streaky if you focused on them over a reasonable period of time. That’s the nature of the game: Hitters aren’t facing the same pitchers every at bat, and have to constantly adjust. Pitchers adjust to hitters. The moon and stars are not always in alignment. Small injuries affect a hitter’s swing. Others have pointed out what I believe to be true: We had very high–unreasonably high–expectations of Jay. He was a highly touted, toolsy prospect, and he got off to a torrid start. What he has proven to be is a very solid outfielder with a significant power bat. I don’t believe for a second that he is a detriment to the Reds being a contender, even if he isn’t the second (but drug-free) coming of Barry Bonds.