Jay Bruce Showing Improvement Against Lefties

To date, Jay Bruce hasn’t lived up to the hype that comes with being the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He’s made progress for sure, and it shows in his 2009 numbers. His OBP sits at .345, far above his .318 career average. This shows up in his wOBA, which is 20 points higher than last year, and he’s only 103 PA behind the 387 he accumulated last year. There’s still time for Bruce to turn this into a breakout season, and given improvement in one aspect of his game, we just might see it.

When Baseball America named Bruce the No. 1 overall prospect in 2008, they said that he “has few faults.” Given his 2007 performance, it’s easy to understand why they’d say that. He clobbered the Florida State League before a brief stint of dominance in the AA Southern League. The Reds moved him to AAA to cover for an injury, but he hit so well that they kept him there. In 204 PA, he racked up 57 hits, including 25 for extra bases. Baseball America said it, though they didn’t really need to: Bruce was ready for the bigs in 2008, at age 21.

Bruce had held his own during his two previous minor league seasons, 2005 playing in the rookie league and 2006 in the class-A Midwest League. One factor that held him back was his performance against lefties. During his debut in 2005 he displayed a distinct split, a .874 OPS against righties and a .719 mark against lefties. In the Midwest League he displayed a similar split, .932 against righties and .790 against lefties. The biggest difference was that he faced lefties in only 21 percent of his PA that year.

We know that splits, especially of the platoon variety, can display plenty of noise to go with the signal, especially in small samples. This effect can be amplified for young players who are still getting used to the rigors of a full baseball season. Bruce showed in 2007 that maybe hitting lefties wouldn’t be a problem. He faced a lefty 30 percent of the time that year and posted a .919 OPS, against a .992 vs. righties. That was, of course, a pretty small sample itself, just 177 PA, but it also showed that his splits from 05 and 06 weren’t necessarily indicative of his skill.

Yet, when he showed up in the majors, he certainly displayed that platoon split. Pick a number and it was probably poor against lefties: a .190 BA, a .263 OBP, a .109 ISO, a .255 wOBA, -9.2 wRAA. He also struck out in 33.6 percent of his at-bats against them. In 2009 he improved in some aspects, but he was still a far below average hitter against lefties, a mere 73 wRC+. He had lowered his overall strikeout rate against lefties but still whiffed against them far more than against righties. He still didn’t hit them for power, a .120 ISO. The only positive was that he started walking against them and had a .313 OBP, while he had a .299 mark against righties.

While, as Jack noted in Bruce’s The Year Ahead section, his low BABIP was a concern coming into 2010, his platoon splits also had to be something of a concern. It’s certainly something that a young player can correct — the record books are full of lefties who struggled against same-handed pitchers only to turn things around as they matured. This year Bruce has started showing signs of such a turnaround. The most notable improvement comes in his power, a .157 ISO on the strength of three homers and four doubles in 83 AB. But he’s made progress in other areas, as well.

Check out the following platoon split graphs. These are just his AVG, BABIP, and ISO, but you can see see his whole platoon graph page and see a similar effect. Many of the graphs start with the blue (lefty) and red (righty) dots decently far apart. In every case they’re much closer together this year.

We are, of course, dealing with volatile samples, both for this season and for Bruce’s career. It would not be surprising, however, to see a 23-year-old start to improve certain aspects of his game, including his performance against same-handed pitchers. If what we’re seeing is a true improvement and not an ephemeral trend disguised as a small sample, we could see a turnaround from Bruce as soon as this year.

His BABIP is up to .324. His line drive rate is up to 21.7 percent. He’s slumped a bit in June, hitting .227 and walking just seven times, but even then he has seven homers, two doubles, and a triple, giving him a .228 ISO, an improvement on his first two months. Things could be coming together for Jay Bruce. If he puts it all together this year and breaks out in the second half, it could be just what the Reds need to keep up their pace in the NL Central.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

17 Responses to “Jay Bruce Showing Improvement Against Lefties”

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  1. bigfun says:

    I don’t care how good Jay Bruce is, the Reds will never win the AL Central.

    Good article though, wasn’t aware of this yet.

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  2. philosofool says:

    Good stuff. With a concession to small samples, I find it a little disconcerting that he’s not hitting 20%+ HR/FB against righties. 12.5% isn’t exactly high-end slugger stuff. His much improved LD% has come at the expense of fly balls, which is not a bad thing in itself. But when it also comes at the expense of power, it’s a little worrisome. Let me put that another way: it starts to make Bruce look like a good pure hitter rather than a great power hitter.

    On the other hand, he’s 23, and maybe we should just wait to see what he looks like in three years before we judge his power.

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    • Jason461 says:

      Worth noting that Bruce broke his wrist last year. Injuries like that tend to sap some of a player’s power for a year or so. His power numbers should go up toward the end of this year or the beginning of next.

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  3. GT says:

    As a Milwaukee resident, it’s becoming harder and harder to come to terms with the fact that I am a closet Reds fan. How can you root against the Reds? At least from a fantasy perspective, the whole team is a group of guys you’re pulling for – Bruce, Votto, Rolen, Cabrera, Phillips, Stubbs, Bailey. Hell, even Edinson’s steroid use is getting (pretty much) a free pass from the blogosphere.

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    • wanderinredsfan says:

      It wasn’t steroids, rather it was a fertility hormone. He states that it was to impregnate his wife, but it is also used to counter-balance a regimen of recently taken steroids. We may never know the truth, but either way he deserved the suspension and probably deserves all future skepticism of his ethics.

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  4. Charlie says:

    I agree with bigfun, the Reds will never win the AL Central.

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  5. Redblooded says:

    Great stuff on Bruce… I keep waiting for him to take a major step, but it looks like he’s taking the slow and steady approach instead… As soon as it all clicks, the Reds will have two of the best young LH hitters in the game in he and Votto.

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  6. Rick says:

    I’m amazed by how many people, many Reds fans included, want to label the guy a bust just because he isn’t an MVP candidate yet. His game is showing steady improvement. He’s also a very good defender; he trails only Ichiro in OOZ plays among RF and has been solid in zone as well.

    So he’s not Jason Heyward (who seems to be this decade’s answer to Griffey/Bonds/ARod/Pujols hit the ground full speed types). But I think people tend to forget how young he is. He’s only 4 months older than Justin Upton.

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    • hazel says:

      It’s amazing that Reds fans trash Bruce while tolerating Stubbs.

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    • GrouchoM says:

      He’s 4 months older and about 2 years behind Upton developmentally. It still boggles my mind that some people thought Bruce was the better prospect …

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      • Rick says:

        Upton’s 35.1 K% suggests he might not have advanced as far as we thought. Upton’s wOBA is at .351 to Bruce’s .349. Upton is a very good player, but perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to his .360 BABIP last year. His 2010 look a lot like his 2008.

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  7. Randall says:

    Bruce is improving, and I’d love to have him play for my hometown 9, but the M’s (Felix and Cliff Lee, primarily) made him look silly with well placed fastballs: 6 K’s in 10 AB…mostly on FB on the up-and-away quadrant of the strikezone.

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  8. Internet T1 says:

    Everyday we can improve our self. If stop improving then we will be dead. What Jay Bruce is showing against the lefties is really an indication that he is really improving and he is doing his best for the team. That is the real player, improving the advantage not only for his own self but also for the benefit of the majority. Hope to hear many players improving. Hope we will be updated even in the Internet .

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