Jay Bruce’s May Surge

After a slow first month of the season – in which he hit .237/.306/.381 – Jay Bruce is absolutely on fire in the month of May. Even though Joe Pawlikowski recently wrote about the difficulty involved in evaluating Bruce’s season, we’re going to take a deeper look into Bruce’s current surge. During the month of May, Bruce has hit .337/.400/.721 with 9 home runs. There’s no doubt that Bruce has been spectacular as of late, but what (if anything) is behind Bruce’s latest surge, and is it sustainable?

Bruce has always been a player projected to develop big power, yet his career high in home runs over a full season is “only” 25. That’s not a necessarily a knock on Bruce, but it seems as if his power has always left people wanting more. If this surge is more than just a hot streak, it’s possible that Bruce will finally live up to his billing as an elite power hitter.

At the same time, this surge has happened over such a short period, so we have to be skeptical before we draw any strong conclusions. While Bruce’s nine home runs over 95 plate appearances is certainly impressive, he has been through streaks like this before. The most comparable streak probably came at the conclusion of 2010, when Bruce hit 15 home runs in just 153 at-bats. On top of that streak, Bruce has one other month in which he clubbed 9 home runs, and two instances where he was able to hit 7 home runs in one month. So while his current power surge is encouraging, it’s unlikely Bruce will be able to sustain it for all that long. He’s just experiencing another hot month. So what, if anything, is behind Bruce’s latest surge?

For one, Bruce has lowered his strikeout rate from 27.8 to 19.8 in May. The lowered strikeout rate has likely led to increased contact and walks for Bruce, leading to his ridiculous slash line over the month. While his .333 BABIP for the month of May seems high, there’s some reason to believe it may be sustainable.

After suffering from poor luck in 2009, Bruce finished last season with a .334 BABIP. Much of that increase was due to Bruce’s great line drive rate. Sure enough, Bruce has regained his ability to spray line drives all over the field this month. After scuffling with just 5.6% line drives through the month of April, Bruce has been able to increase that number to 17.7% in May.

While it’s reasonable to expect Bruce to continue hitting line drives at a high rate, it’s unlikely his big power surge will continue. Over the month of May, Bruce has managed to hit 24.2% of his fly balls out of the ballpark, an unsustainable rate going forward. The high number shouldn’t diminish anything Bruce has accomplished over this month, though. As Joe Pawl attempted to explain in his article, it’s tough to evaluate Bruce’s performance this season…and in a way, that’s true. Bruce definitely won’t continue mashing at this current rate. At the same time, his May surge has put him back on track to live up to his lofty pre-season predictions after a poor start the season. Jay Bruce’s current streak has been impressive, and even though some aspects won’t hold up as the season progresses, it’s gotten Bruce back on the right track. Sometimes, that’s good enough.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

9 Responses to “Jay Bruce’s May Surge”

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  1. Clint says:

    Keep it going Jay!

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  2. CampBrice says:

    What gets lost sometimes in these articles is context: The kid is only 24 years of age. Impressive to say the least

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  3. TheGrandSlamwich says:

    He is one of the top young players in baseball. I believe that if he stays healthy, 35 bombs is not out of the picture. And I, sadly, don’t even have him on one of my fantasy teams.

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  4. Colin says:

    One thing I’ve noticed from watching a lot of Bruce over the last few years, he gets into grooves when he goes with the pitch. It may seem obvious, but when he is really on fire like this last month he stays back and drives the ball. When he struggles he is way out front trying to pull everything, and as a result gets eaten alive by breaking balls and anything outside.

    I haven’t looked at his spray charts, but it’d be interesing to see if he has more hits the opposite way this month in addition to his high line drive percentage.

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  5. jason461 says:

    There are issues with your analysis.

    First, “full season” is a deceptive term. Bruce came up mid way through his first season and broke his wrist his second season. In both instances, his power numbers were better that they were during his full season last year, he just didn’t get into enough games to top 30+ HRs. His average HR total/162 games is 32, incidentally.

    Secondly, you are ignoring the wrist injury. A broken wrist is widely understood to sap a player’s power for around a year. Last year, his power picked up almost exactly one year after that injury and he’s been pretty steady since them. Obviously, he isn’t going to SLG .700

    I fully expect, barring injury, he’ll finish 3ith 30-40 HRs.

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    • James says:

      Yes, I believe there was an article on Fangraphs along these lines last year about how wrist injuries are a big deal. See also Quentin, Carlos.

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  6. Donald Trump says:

    You say “he has been through streaks like this before… when Bruce hit 15 home runs in just 153 at-bats… one other month in which he clubbed 9 home runs, and two instances where he was able to hit 7 home runs in one month. So while his current power surge is encouraging, it’s unlikely Bruce will be able to sustain it for all that long.” How, exactly, does the fact that he has had great power streaks before mean that this time around it is just a streak and not an indication that he has gotten better? This is, after all, a 24 year old who has hit 28hr in his last 357 at bats. Maybe April was the fluke.

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  7. Ballens says:

    I think the way to approach a player like Bruce who has obvious big time home run capabilities is to note that in whatever order he hits them, his homeruns are going to come. I think its fair to expect that he won’t continue to hit 9 homers a month on out, but it is certainly reasonable barring injury for him to keep a pace of 6 or 7 homeruns a month. It may be where he hits 2 in June and 10 in July or something like that, but the point is that the homers are going to come given enough at bats. He seems similar to Troy Tulowitzki. There are stretches every year where Tulow just hammers the ball every time he hits it. He’ll go a couple weeks without anything, then just light up for a couple weeks. Some guys are that way.

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  8. lex logan says:

    I heard that Bruce was the first Red since Frank Robinson to hit 20+ HR’s in his first three seasons, so I decided to see how Jay matched up so far in a WAR graph. Um, well, a St Bernard looks big if you don’t stand him next to an elephant…but Bruce does track nicely with Harmon Killebrew.

    Bruce has been hitting lefties harder since his surge began late last year..by the way, am I missing platoon splits on Fangraphs? Anyway, his OPS for the year is 1.071 vs. LHP, .849 vs. RHP, career .746 & .839. So basically he’s hitting righties normally but has switched from struggling against to crushing lefties. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the season.

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