Projecting Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce so far, in two major league seasons, has a .328 career wOBA in 839 plate appearances. As such, one might be surprised to see the following Bill James projection on his player page:

.274 AVG, .340 OBP, .537 SLG, .373 wOBA

Given what we’ve seen of Bruce in the majors, this projection seems a little bit ridiculous. James projects Bruce to pick up 45 points of wOBA. His projections have been known to be a bit optimistic for some offensive players. Is this another one of those cases?

Let’s compare Jay Bruce’s 2009 to his projected mark for 2010.

2009: 9.9 BB%, 21.7 K%, .303 OBP, .470 SLG, .246 ISO, .222 BABIP, .329 wOBA
2010: 8.9 BB%, 22.0 K%, .340 OBP, .537 SLG, .263 ISO, .290 BABIP, .373 wOBA

There’s really only one major difference there, and that’s his BABIP. Bruce’s BABIP is one of the more interesting anomalies in the game, as I explored over at Beyond the Boxscore earlier in the season. As a quick summary, Bruce’s BABIP on line drives and fly balls in particular has been particularly low for his whole career, and he’s had more than 20 fewer hits on those two types of batted balls than we would expect. This has dealt a pretty substantial blow to his value, as these hits would add up to more than 11 runs in value.

BABIP luck and skill is one of the more interesting topics of conversation in the sabermetric world. The league average is around .300, and we don’t usually see much variation in the statistic, but that isn’t to say that batters don’t have an inherent skill as far as reaching base on balls in play. However, with a sample of 840 PAs with Bruce, we can’t really say for sure if there’s something about Bruce’s batted balls that lead to outs or if he’s just had poor luck. James’s projection system is operating on the assumption that there’s a large amount of luck at play with Bruce, and as such he projects a breakout year for the young outfielder.

Jay Bruce will be one of the most interesting players to watch in the majors in 2010. He has incredible power and is a very toolsy player. The question is if he shows the potential he flashed in the minor leagues (AAA slugging percentage over .600) or if he continues to hit like a league average player.




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14 Responses to “Projecting Jay Bruce”

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  1. Wouter says:

    Would it be possible in a way for to develop a system similar to Dewan’s +/- system to say something about the batters? For example, a play that would go as a + for a fielder, would signify bad luck for a batter. Of course, this would never tell the whole story, as part of Bruce’s low BABIP is due to the direction he hits the ball. Hit F/X data, please come join us in the mainstream!

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    • Daniel says:

      This would be quite interesting.

      I think the fact that such a system wouldn’t tell the whole story is actually a plus – it could allow us to isolate more exactly the “luck” component of BABIP and then we could assume the rest is more or less skill, based on the velocity and angle of batted balls. Good food for thought.

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  2. Joe R says:

    If you take his MLE from AAA Louisville (without even adjusting for age), Bruce is a .288/.328/.486 hitter, pretty similar to Ian Kinsler. So right there, that’s a .355 to .360 wOBA.

    So a .373 wOBA is very plausable in my opinion.

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    • Jason461 says:

      Indeed. And that’s without taking into account that he is still VERY young and should, at least theoretically, continue to develop.

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  3. The James projections are always… interesting. But in this case, check out the CHONE line:

    http://www.baseballprojection.com/2010/CIN2010.htm

    .275/.342/.516

    pretty close

    I’d say a lot of it has to do with Bruce’s age, but also keep in mind that the three-slash (for CHONE, anyway) reflects Bruce’s home park and the NL. The park- and league- neutral lwts/150 for Bruce are projected at +10… so I’m guessing (go to Sean for the real schoop) that the projection is affected by him being in the NL and in a hitter’s park.

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  4. Paul says:

    I think this is a complete non-story. You left out his 2008, in which he had a normal BABIP in many more ABs than last season. While it has been noted that he intentionally tried to hit more fly balls last season, the guy had a fractured wrist. Not only was there not a chance for those extreme rates to normalize over the course of the season, but a wrist injury in particular should cast serious doubt on that extreme outlier, especially since it is such a departure from previous seasons. It’s pretty simple, one of these things ain’t like the others, and it’s the wrist injury. James’ projection could be conservative.

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    • Jason461 says:

      Bruce’s wrist injury occurred after he put up almost all of his at bats for the season.

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      • Paul says:

        Thanks for the correction, after his return he raked to improve the overall numbers. Which actually brings up an even more striking reason to support a correction: in the months where he had the most ABs last season his BABIPs were .195 and .177. Wild fluctuations and extreme outliers like this in a young player with his pedigree beg to be almost completely dismissed.

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    • Jack Moore says:

      He did not have a normal BABIP in 2008 – check out the linked story. He hit a ton of line drives and had a below average BABIP on all types of batted balls in 2008 just as he did in 2009. We just see it more in 2009 because his LD% dropped and so his BABIP troubles were more pronounced.

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      • Paul says:

        In the linked story you open by stating that he had a “near-normal” BABIP. You were right then since it was .298. The numbers are clearly inconclusive and I’m betting on the upside. A young LH hitter with a huge platoon split, trying to take advantage of a bandbox is more likely to show these kinds of outliers before settling into a consistent approach.

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  5. CJ says:

    The projection systems are incorporating Bruce’s minor league performance. For young players with only a couple of major league seasons, their minor league record continues to influence their projected stat line.

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  6. joser says:

    Jay Bruce — just unlucky, or the anti-Ichiro?
    (You know there has to be one, or the universe spins off its axis.)

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  7. Bobby Boden says:

    Jay Bruce is a curious case. His minor league .382 BABIP suggests that he has hit a massive number of line drives in his past. Then you look at his 2009, where he’s suddenly an extreme flyball hitter (48.5%) with a microscopic LD%( 13% ). So who’s the real Jay Bruce? The 2009 fly ball/low BABIP version of himself? Or the pre-2009 version, that drives the ball more, and posts a better average? Seems hard to tell, with such a young player.

    Still, using my xBABIP calculator, and his 2009 batted ball data, I still peg him at a .280 xBABIP, not great, but a big improvement over his actual 2009 BABIP. So where does the true xBABIP lie? Anywhere between .222(2009) and .382(career minor league) seems within the realm of feasibility. I think between .280(xBABIP 2009) and .332 (his career (major/minor combined) seems more feasible, which would be a big improvement over his 2009 numbers.

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  8. R M says:

    Bruce is going to be 23 this season….meaning he put up a near league average season as a 22 year old with a .223 BABIP. Unless he gets injured or becomes possessed by Alex Gonzalez, the chance of him merely sustaining previous production is so low that I’m not sure it’s even worth considering. Bruce had a .298 BABIP in 2008, and one season of depressed BABIP isn’t nearly enough to suggest that he might be one of those players who perennially puts up low BABIPS.

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