Disclaimer: All stats current as of Saturday, May 13th. I will be out of town and won’t be able to update the stats. If Bruce has two really good or really bad games, the numbers may change substantially this early in the season.

Jay Bruce struggled through his worst season as a healthy baseball player in 2015. While he clubbed 26 homeruns, his OBP fell short of .300 for the second consecutive hear and his OPS of .729 was far below his career norm. He finished with a 91 wRC+, the lowest runs created score of his career besides his injury-plagued 2014 campaign.

But, on July 31, 2015, the Reds almost struck a deal with the New York Mets to send Jay Bruce to New York in exchange for Zack Wheeler, a highly touted pitching prospect. Wheeler had just undergone Tommy John surgery in the spring but had averaged almost 95 MPH on his fastball and struck out 23.6% of batters during the 2014 season. That’s a top 20 strikeout rate in all of baseball from a 23 year old.

So, why did the Mets almost trade away a potential stud starting pitcher for the 2015 version of Jay Bruce? Because for two and a half months before and up to the trade deadline, he had the best stretch of his career.

From May 16 until July 31st, Bruce hit .305/.376/.562 with 12 homeruns and a 150 wRC+. He was essentially a top five hitter in the National League for that period of time, striking out well below his career mark and walking over 10% of the time.

It appeared Bruce had turned a corner. He had never sustained that kind of success for so long, and the Mets clearly took notice. When the deal didn’t go through, I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that Bruce would continue his strong play.

And then it happened. He went into a terrible slump from August 1st onward. His 45 wRC+ was worse than Billy Hamilton’s over the final two months, and his slash line of .178/.219/.357 is on par with some pitchers.

Thus, Bruce’s trade value plummeted. The Reds tried to deal him in the offseason and even had a three-way trade with the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels fall through at the last moment. Much to the surprise of many, Bruce began the year with the Reds.

The Reds likely still want to trade their former All Star as they’ve stated their plan is to trade veterans for younger, cheaper talent. They undoubtedly hope that Bruce can play like the guy who averaged 3.7 WAR and 119 wRC+ from 2010-2013 in order to increase his trade value. Now that we are about six weeks into the season, we can begin to evaluate whether Bruce has moved the needle or not.

So far, he is hitting .237 with a .285 OBP. His power numbers, though, are actually pretty good. Not only is he slugging 20 points higher than his career mark, his isolated power of .246 is off the charts good. If you are unfamiliar with ISO, you simply subtract a player’s batting average from their slugging percentage to isolate how often they get extra-base hits. Check out Patrick’s post from last week for more fun numbers.

All of this means that Bruce has been woefully inept at getting on base, but when he does make contact, he does some serious damage. In fact, he currently has more extra-base hits (14) than singles (13). Let’s start with the on base problems and move to the power. Here’s a table that compares Bruce from his best years to his performance this season.

What’s interesting is that he is swinging and missing less than he has in the past. He also swings slightly less at pitches out of the zone. That should translate to more walks and fewer strikeouts, but it isn’t. Bruce has always struck out a lot, but when he was at his best, he also walked quite a bit. During his best years, he walked almost 10% of the time while striking out close to 25%. Currently, his K% is elevated a little (26%) in spite of an improved contact rate. Unfortunately his BB% has taken a massive drop to 4.9%. That’s poor by any measure. Players need a high batting average to overcome a poor walk rate like that, and Bruce is not a high average guy.

The other problem with Bruce getting on base is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). At his best, he was slightly above average. The last few years, his BABIP has dropped significantly. That could have something to do with teams shifting, but as we will see below, Bruce has hit a much higher percentage of line drives this year than years past. We would expect that to lead to more hits.

Maybe these numbers stabilize over the next few weeks. It only takes a few walks and a few extra hits to change things, but until now, Bruce has struggled mightily to get on base.

The power numbers are more encouraging.

When Bruce puts the ball in play, he tends to hit it hard. His line drive percentage has shot up to 28%, much better than his best years. His OPS is down almost entirely because his on-base skills have seemingly declined. The power is the same, and Bruce rarely hits the ball softly. That 11.5% Soft% is the 17 best rate out of 189 qualified players.

What does all of this mean for his trade value? Probably not much yet. His power remains attractive, but he makes too many outs for a team to give up quality prospects to get him in return. If I were another team, I would want to wait to see if Bruce’s improving swing and miss and contact rates eventually lead to him getting on base more.

From these numbers, I would expect Bruce to catch fire soon. He can’t continue to hit the ball that hard and make that many outs. The walks will likely increase as well. Will that lead to a contender pulling the trigger on a 29 year old former All Star? Time will tell.

Update: After I wrote that Bruce was having trouble getting on base, he played two games and reached base seven times, vastly improving his numbers. Of course he did because I didn’t have time to update the numbers. Teams will still likely need time to see if the underlying numbers translate to solid production, but his overall numbers are now around his career norms.


39 Responses

  1. WVRedlegs

    He is getting there. Moving that needle slowly though.
    Fangraphs this morning has Bruce at .258/.318/.500, 6.8% BB%, 25.0% K%, .305 BABIP, .242 ISO, and a 111 wRC+.

  2. mdhabel

    2016 vs PHI – 10/24, 3BB (.416/.541)
    2016 vs all other teams – 21/96, 6 BB (.218/.281)

    Probably doesn’t mean much with only 6 games against the Phils but I thought it was interesting.

  3. DHud

    I 100% believe defensive shifts are affecting hitters like Jay, and I would point to the low BABIP, number of singles versus XBH, and line drive percentage as backing. So many of his hard hit line drives that would be normally be singles in a standard defense are being hit right into the shift, i.e. line drive numbers stay high but BABIP and number of singles are decreased. His hits are coming when he hits it over the defenses head or down the lines, leading to doubles.

    I would venture to say it’s affecting Votto as well, which is surprising because he usually does such a good job going the other way. With teams pitching him inside though that’s become more difficult.

    Defensive shifts are essentially combating BABIP by putting defenders in positions where base hits usually occur. That’s why using the whole field is so important, and for guys like Bruce, isn’t part of their game

    • gaffer

      If you look at PitchTrax, Bruce is the worst officiated player in all of baseball for umpires. They routinely call strikes on him both low and away off the plate and also inside. They don’t call high strikes but Bruce would be 20% better easily if they gave him a fair strike zone. BTW there was an article on this website last year that showed this so a reference would be appreciated to back me up.

  4. IndyRedMan

    Bruce’s career OPS .782

    Home .829 Road .737

    Considering Jay Bruce’s numbers GABP has to be factored in….not as much as Coors Field obviously but imo someone like Josh Reddick (90 career HRs) would hit 25 HRs playing w/the Reds as could almost anyone with 15-18 HR power on a team playing in a bigger park. I guess Winker will be his replacement if Duvall moves to RF? Better obp and avg at the expense of power and Jesse better beat .737 on the road or this team will continue to putt along offensively on the road?

  5. james garrett

    My guess is that we will have to settle for less then his worth simply because we are trying to get rid of him and everybody knows it.If somebody thinks he is the missing piece and can get them to the playoffs then that always plays in to it but we won’t get anything near for him that the Royals paid for Cueto.If he goes on one of his famous streaks then it helps but Bruce is what he is and its no secret.I have always been a big fan of his but he never reached the level I thought he would but maybe that one is on me and not on him.

    • gaffer

      I bet we settle for what he IS worth, because that is how it works. We will get less than we were offered last year, and less than we WISH he is worth, but that is not reality.

    • Michael W.

      If we could get one controllable good player, hitter preferably, I would take it. For Cueto, it looks like we got three. They waited too long to pull the trigger on a Bruce trade, so it seems like getting one solid prospect back is all we can hope for.

    • Yippee

      Didn’t get much back from Frazier and that was after a really nice season…not sure what Bruce would bring back, probably not too much. Better temper those expectations!

      • gaffer

        I would rather get a young prospect because at least there is the possibility to get a decent player. The reds have been asking for only major league ready players, hence they are getting guys with lower ceilings. No way we get a MLB average hitter for Bruce, because who would give up a player that is the same as what they are getting. Lets hope some team gets a big injury near the deadline and overpays.

        I still cant believe we turned down Zach Wheeler!

      • eric3287

        I think when they exchanged medicals, the Reds Medical Staff looked at Wheeler’s and said, “Wait! This guy tore his UCL. What the hell is a UCL?”

      • Yippee

        Yep, we could have waited on Wheeler, wasn’t planning on competing in 2016 anyway…apparently.

      • lwblogger2

        In hindsight, you’re clearly right. At the time though, I didn’t think it would have been in the Reds’ best interest to take a severely damaged pitcher. It wasn’t just his UCL but he had another issue repaired as well. His timetable looked worse than Bailey’s and you just never know with these kinds of things; he may never be the same. A healthy Wheeler, or even a healthy MLB quality, controllable starting pitcher with less ability and I would have been all for it.

  6. Patrick Jeter

    After reading your write-up, Nick, I have developed a theory about Bruce’s walk rate.

    His oContact% is 8.3% higher than his career rate (64.2% vs 55.9%) this year. This is also his highest ever.

    If he’s making contact on pitches out of the zone, that would seem to give him fewer opportunities to swing and miss and work a count into one he could walk in. For example, whiffing on a 3-1 pitch means you might still walk. Making contact on that OOZ pitch might mean poor contact and no walk.

    Haven’t looked very much into this, but it’s a fun theory!

  7. WVRedlegs

    Trade expectations for Bruce? Hard to speculate at this point. My best case scenario would be a DeSclafani & Bruce trade to Houston for the final re-build pieces. Houston might be ready to overpay a little depending on what their position is at the deadline. Houston is already said to need a starter. And Bruce might entice the Astros too. He does have an affordable team option for 2017 and the Astros talented group of OF prospects might not be ready until late 2017 or 2018. There won’t be any takers for Bailey at the deadline. Iglesias is under contract for 5 1/2 more seasons at a known cost. DeSclafani hits arbitration after 2017 and his costs are little less known. With the way Stephenson, Reed, Garrett, and Davis are coming on, DeSclafani getting dealt at the deadline could make some sense. Pair him with Bruce and try to maximize their return.

    • eric3287

      Unfortunately, you probably aren’t getting anything for DeSclafani while he deals with the oblique strain from hell that seems to have flummoxed the great minds that make up the Reds vaunted medical staff.

      • greenmtred

        My understanding is that oblique strains flummox everybody.

  8. Chuck Schick

    He isn’t going to garner much of a return and every game he plays is one day of service time that Winkler doesn’t accrue.

    • gaffer

      Agree, and we will have to pay Bruce’s salary in a deal anyway.

    • ohiojimw

      Chuck, do you see any more money that the Reds have to save on this cycle at this time besides what might be saved by staving off super2 status on some folks?

      I’m not sure i do. They’d have to pay just to dump salary on Bailey or Meso at least thru the end of 2017 and probably beyond and get virtually nothing coming back.

      Depending on exactly what the terms of BPs deferred money are, he could be more expensive to move now even with less left on the deal.

      And on and on…..

      • Chuck Schick

        Jim…..At worst, Meso and Bailey are sunk cost. At best, they both recover and some of that money is earned. My guess is insurance has picked up at least some of both.

        Saving on super 2 is huge as those salaries have a huge compouning affect. No reason to pay Winkler anymore than they need to pay Winkler by just keeping him in Lousiville an extra month in a lost season.

      • Gaffer

        No insurance coverage on either, those policies always have 1 year of consecutive time missed deductible at least. Those companies are also notorious for not paying (claim all sorts of baloney). Usually, it only is worth claiming the insurance if they retire due to injury.

      • ohiojimw

        I don’t know about the issues with policies that are put in place; but I have read several places that very few contracts are insured any more due to premium costs and the restrictive terms most insurers require.

        If were to take a guess, it would be that Votto is insured and also Bailey due to the higher likelihood of serious injury to a pitcher.

        Meso on the other hand being “only” $28M for the full amount over 4 years, likely isn’t insured.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Insurance is way expensive and much less used than people think. If you were an insurance company, how much would you charge for a $20 million payout for one year on a hard-throwing pitcher?

  9. IndyRedMan

    What was Simon worth to the Tigers? I guess they just saw his AS status from 2014 and didn’t watch the 2nd half? Leake is nothing special….a #4 innings eater and we got Duvall for a half season of him? The White Sox have CF Adam Eaton in RF and Austin Jackson (.615 OPS) in CF….they for one could def use Jay Bruce!

    • Patrick Jeter

      Bruce to CHI makes a lot of sense given that they actually look to be competitive this year.

  10. gaffer

    I am becoming satisfied that we will eventually have Winker and Duval as the corner OF for the next 3 years. Duval may hit a wall but I am a believer now that his floor is at least a 400PA LFer. So, what we really need is to get a CF in trade over the next year. I doubt Bruce nets us that so it will likely have to be a pitcher traded (which we can afford).

  11. StillRed

    Dont know if there are stats to show this, but watching Bruce more closely this year, he seems to be fouling off a lot of fastballs inside the strike zone, I don’t know if he’s always done that. He isn’t swinging and missing, as the stats above show, but it seems like he is missing some opportunities earlier in the count and giving the pitcher the advantage. Also, the shifts really do seem to rob him of some hits…it feels like his efforts to go the opposite way have not proven all the successful.

  12. john lucia

    we need a manager like captain hook. Price has too much patience with these pitchers. He holds on tho them to LONG with lousy era’s ,. they constantly get behind in the count. After getting behind in the count( 2 balls and 0 strikes) I would would immediately send a message by taking them OUT of the ball game. You’re a professional MLB The mgr. needs to set the tone that this will NOT be tolerated. It has killed the team moral,fan base ,etc. How many chances to you give a guy like Hoover? You don’t have a second chance in life to make a first impression.

  13. lwblogger2

    It’s no secret that I love Jay Bruce. If I’m a GM for a contending team in need of OF help, I want him on my team. Even that love isn’t blind though. I wouldn’t give the Reds much back in a trade aside from salary relief. I’d want money, a prospect, or another player coming my way to take on Bruce. It’s just taking on the risk that he falls off a cliff again and being on the hook for his full salary AND giving up a prospect that feels like a bit much for me.

  14. Shchi Cossack

    A total of .310/.333/.595/.929 w/ 20.0% SO% & 2.3% BB%
    Duvall => .294/.368/.559/.927 w/ 23.7% SO% & 10.6% BB%

    2nd 11 games:
    Bruce => .194/.310/.361/.671 w/ 23.8% SO% & 11.9% BB%
    Duvall => .162/.162/.351/.514 w/ 46.0% SO% & 0.0% BB%

    3rd 11-12 games:
    Bruce => .283/.327/.522/.848 w/ 28.6% SO% & 6.2% BB%
    Duvall => .395/.439/.842/1.281 w/ 32.9% SO% & 2.7% SO%

    Both sluggers had a dynamite 1st 2 weeks, then tanked for 2 weeks, then followed with a solid two weeks. With such a sparse track record at the major league level, Duvall’s performance lends hope but little credance for future results. Bruce’s performance cycle appeared very atypical for Bruce. This 2 week cycle trend contradicts his prior 2-4 week hot streaks followed or preceded by 2-4 months of struggles at the plate.

    It’s still less than 150 PA, but both sluggers could be making the early stages of a serious statement at the plate.

    • Shchi Cossack

      That was a wierd system edit…

      I found an interesting early trimester pattern for both Bruce and Duvall for the 2016 season. It’s less than 150 PA for both sluggers and certainly not statistically relevant, but for what its worth…

      1st 11 games:
      Bruce => .310/.333/.595/.929 w/ 20.0% SO% & 2.3% BB%
      Duvall => .294/.368/.559/.927 w/ 23.7% SO% & 10.6% BB%

      2nd 11 games:
      Bruce => .194/.310/.361/.671 w/ 23.8% SO% & 11.9% BB%
      Duvall => .162/.162/.351/.514 w/ 46.0% SO% & 0.0% BB%

      3rd 11-12 games:
      Bruce => .283/.327/.522/.848 w/ 28.6% SO% & 6.2% BB%
      Duvall => .395/.439/.842/1.281 w/ 32.9% SO% & 2.7% SO%

  15. Phil B

    Zack Cozart would seem to be their number 1 trade chip. I hope Reds mgt has learned that you get premium prices at mid year from contenders as opposed to the pitiful way they dealt Frazier and Chapman.

  16. Eric The Red

    The most scarce commodity in baseball these days is power. Couple it with above average right field defense, and it’s even more valuable. I don’t know why Bruce isn’t worth more in trade–I don’t know why Frazier was only worth a slap hitting middle infielder–but if that’s how he’s valued he’s worth more to us than anything we’d get in trade. His contract is very team friendly, and we can probably sign him to another one.

    We have a total of one bat in the minors, and he’s going to play LF. Duvall is having a hot week, but that’s it. Trade Bruce, and unless you get a great bat in another deal–and no one trades great young bats–we’re going to find ourselves “one slugger short” when the rest of the rebuild bears fruit.

  17. mdhabel

    Looks like you posted this at just the right time (or wrong time, depending on how you look at it).

  18. Patrick Jeter

    At this time, Jay Bruce is 2nd in MLB in Win Probability Added (WPA) behind Ian Desmond, of all people, and one spot ahead of Bryce Harper.

    WPA is a “new school” stat that “old school” fans should love. It gives tons of credit when the situations are the clutchiest and gives almost no credit for things like hitting a homer when your team is up 10-0.

    Desmond 2.35
    Bruce 2.28
    Harper 2.18
    Cano 1.93
    Ortiz 1.72

  19. Patrick Jeter

    Completely off topic but interesting… Clayton Kershaw has 50.5 career fWAR and is 28. That’s good.

  20. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Write more articles like this one. For, since it was probably turned in for publication, Bruce has been knocking the cover off the ball.