A Defense of Jay Bruce

As a Jay Bruce owner and sympathizer — or maybe that’s Jay Bruce-owner sympathizer — I feel compelled to at least take a half-hearted hack at Dave Cameron’s trade value rankings.

While I’ve agreed with his rankings thus far — not that my assessment means much to anyone other than me — I must at least challenge Mr. Cameron on his omission of the mighty Bruce.

To be fair, Cameron spent just a couple of sentences on the Cincinnati slugger in his Just Missed the Cut post, so a detailed reasoning wasn’t available. Regardless, I spent some time looking through Bruce’s numbers in an attempt to craft a credible, albeit tentative argument against his exclusion.

Here’s what I found:

Truth be told, the Reds outfielder has not done a whole lot to help his cause recently. While his power numbers remain streakily Brucian, they do not make up for his sliding peripherals: His strikeouts are way up. His walks are way down. His good-not-great batting average is buoyed by a career-high and likely unsustainable BABIP, and his defense has gone from Gold-Glove caliber to doesn’t hurt to have him out there.

So, what reasoning could I possibly have to combat that mountain of evidence? Well, let me channel my inner Hawk Harrelson and talk about Bruce and The Will to Win … Don’t stop reading! I was just kidding!

Bruce’s value truly begins with his durability. From 2010 to the 2013 break, he has played in more than 95 percent of Cincinnati’s scheduled games, almost 10 percent more than Cameron’s No. 50 — I told you this was tentative — Austin Jackson and +10 percent more than No. 43 Jason Heyward

I know 10 percent doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when the Tigers and Braves have to plug in replacement level players like Andy Dirks and Reed Johnson for a month, the loss stings.

Complementing Bruce’s durability is his age. Despite six seasons in the bigs, he turned 26 years old a few months ago, and it can be argued he has yet to enter his peak years.

I’m not trying spin any yarns about the mythical breakout of players turning 27, but I am saying Baseball-Reference lists Reggie Jackson as Bruce’s No 1. comparable player through their age-25 seasons. A quick look back at the HOF’s numbers tells us it took him quite a few years to get those strikeouts under control.

Maybe Bruce never will, and maybe he, as many predict, becomes Adam Dunn (No. 7 on the same list), but let’s not be so quick to dub him Big Donkey Part Deux just yet. He still has plenty of time to right the ship and develop into a more well-rounded player.

Finally, Bruce’s contract is relatively team-friendly, considering the two-time All-Star has been in the majors in this his sixth season. This year, he’s a bargain at $7.5 million, and while his contract jumps to an average of about $12 million per season for the next three — and a team-controlled fourth — years, that’s not out of line for what sluggers of his caliber are paid.

Consider No. 45 on Cameron’s list, Edwin Encarnacion (breakout age, 29, by the way), whose track record is essentially 2012, is making about $10 million the next three seasons.

So, are these factors and his strong counting numbers evidence enough for Bruce’s inclusion on Cameron’s list? Maybe. However, more convincing arguments admittedly could be made for Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmerman.

But without a doubt, Bruce is a fringe top-50 trade value player; his durability, youth and contract certainly warrant the debate, if not a spot on Cameron’s list.

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Matt Brown
Matt Brown

I now expect to see a similar article detailing Ben Revere’s worthiness.