Believe in Jay Bruce

Few young sluggers entered the 2009 season with more fanfare than Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. The sweet-swinging lefty terrorized minor league pitchers, batting .308/.366/.551 on the farm and reaching the big leagues by age 21.

While understandably rough around the edges, Bruce displayed enormous potential in 2008. He popped 21 homers in 413 AB, with a .199 ISO. While most players his age were trying to crack AA, The Boss was nearly a league-average hitter at the highest level (.328 wOBA).

A quick glance at Bruce’s 2009 numbers leaves fantasy owners feeling a little underwhelmed. After all, Jay batted .223, with his wOBA basically unchanged (.329). He rolled his wrist attempting to make a diving catch in July, suffering a fracture that sidelined him until September.

In all, 2009 would appear to be a lost year for the highly-touted right fielder. However, Bruce actually made a good deal of progress at the plate. Here are several reasons to believe in The Boss heading into 2010:

Age and minor league track record

Bruce, who won’t turn 23 until April, has always been young relative to the levels at which he has played. While he wasn’t the most patient batter in the minors (he walked in 8.4% of his PA), Bruce bashed to the tune of a .243 ISO.

He showed no problems with pitchers of either hand, drubbing lefties for a .290/.352/.522 triple-slash and roping righties for a .318/.376/.574 line. Bruce hasn’t hit southpaws in the major leagues, but 230-some AB by a 21-22 year-old can’t exactly be considered conclusive.

Improved plate discipline

Bruce walked in 7.4% of his PA in 2008, but he improved that mark to 9.9% in 2009. His Outside-Swing Percentage dropped from 30.4% in ’08 to 26% this past season (right around the MLB average). That’s a happy development, considering that opposing pitchers gave Jay fewer offerings over the plate. They tossed him a pitch within the strike zone just 45.7% of the time in 2009 (48.3% in 2008; the MLB average is 49-50%). Bruce saw four pitches per PA in ’09, up from 3.8 P/PA in 2008.

Improved contact rate

The Boss but the bat on the ball 81.3% of the time on pitches within the strike zone in 2008, but bumped that number up to 86.6% in 2009 (88% MLB average). That helped Bruce lower his strikeout rate from 26.6% in ’08 to 21.7% in ’09.

Increased power production

Bruce’s ISO climbed from the aforementioned .199 in 2008 to .246 this past year. He clubbed 22 big flies in 345 AB (15.7 AB/HR), topping 2008′s 19.7 AB/HR pace.

Poor luck

Cincy’s franchise player had a .373 BABIP in the minor leagues, and a .298 major league mark in 2008. In 2009, his BABIP dropped off a cliff (.222). That was the lowest BABIP among batters taking 350+ trips to the plate.

Bruce’s line drive rate was extremely low at 13%, but I’m inclined to believe some of that was due to official scorer’s bias. Line drives don’t “exist” the way that some other events on the diamond do. Someone has to make a subjective judgment, saying, “I think that ball was a liner” or “I think that was a fly ball.”

Bruce had a liner rate exceeding 21% in 2008. This year, he had the second-lowest LD% among hitters with 350+PA. Given the authority with which he hit the ball overall, the low liner rate doesn’t appear to be much of a concern. Expect that BABIP to climb significantly in 2010.

Jay Bruce has all the ingredients to be a superstar. In a “disappointing” year, he showed top-shelf power, improved strike-zone discipline and better contact ability. Fantasy owners aren’t going to get another chance to acquire The Boss with anything less than a premium draft pick. If at all possible, nab Bruce now, before he becomes a perennial first-rounder.




Print This Post

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

19 Responses to “Believe in Jay Bruce”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. mo says:

    I have been tracking Bruce for a while now, Im really hoping no one in my draft takes him early on the same hunch that I have.

    What do you think his ADP will be?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Bobby says:

    There are a couple fairly large unknowns surrounding him at this point in his career. He made massive strides with his K% this year, is that to be expected going forward next year, or does he revert back towards his old ways (minor leagues included) of striking out a good deal. The other big question, is about his FB%. His minor league numbers (high BABIP) seem to suggest he did not have an extremely large FB%, along with his performance in 2008. In 2009, he hit fly balls at an extreme rate, which will make for a much lower .AVG, with more home runs. So the question is…which one is the real jay bruce? I tend to believe in the increased K%, and I tend to believe he’s closer to the 2008 version of himself (where a lot more Fly Balls are converted into Line Drives), which would result in big strides in batting average, but might cost him a few home runs.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. RMR says:

    As a Reds fan, I’m similarly optimistic about his future. However, the BABIP shiuftr and the ISO shift we saw in 2009 was not just a function of bad luck. Consider his other batted ball types:

    2008: 21.1 LD, 44.7 GB, 34.2 FB
    2009: 13.0 LD, 38.5 GB, 48.5 FB

    Generically speaking, if you trade grounders for fly balls, you’re going to see the shift Bruce saw last year: lower average (from a lower BABIP) and a higher ISO. When the ball isn’t in the gap of over the fence, it’s falling in to an OF’s glove.

    If you watched Bruce in 2009, he clearly added a bit of loft to his swing. Consequently, he put the ball in the air much more often in 2009, and that resulted in what we saw in 2009.

    I wouldn’t begin to claim that the shift was entirely the product of this change in his swing — I imagine “luck” played a role too. But it certainly was a key part of the explanation. Interesting, when he returned from the fractured wrist in September, his 2008 swing was back. The added loft was gone and Bruce put up a .326/.426/.652 line. Again, luck plays a role, but so did his return to his more natural swing.

    2010 should be a breakout season for Bruce. He’s young, talented, and has a great work ethic. As a Reds fan, I hope the Bruce we saw in September is here to stay.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. As Bruce’s biggest fan and follower, I truly believe he’ll go .270/30/90 next season with ten stolen bases and score near 100.

    I watched him all year, his luck was beyond abhorrent. His swing is too good and that park is too nice to hit in for him not to pan out. Put hitters around him, hit him in the middle of the lineup, he’ll produce.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Andrew says:

    I traded for him when he was on the DL last season in my dynasty. I’ve been touting him for all the same reasons.

    I don’t know if 10 SBs is an entirely fair expectation, but otherwise, I pretty much agree with the stat-line theNaturalMevs put up. To me, though, that line reflects what a normal luck-adjusted year looks like for Bruce without any gain in the skills he’s already shown.

    If he continues making strides, I wouldn’t be shocked into seeing him turn into a true monster. I don’t know that he’ll become a perennial first rounder with what appears to be limited potential to steal bases and hit for average, but I believe a perennial 2nd rounder is well within reach.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Samuel says:

      I’m not sure his ability to hit for average really is that limited. He hits the ball hard and he’s improved his contact % after one year in the league; with a little bit more improvement, and with the way he hits the ball, his average could improve to .300 or so. His major league BABIP has been very low compared to his minor league numbers, and while it probably won’t raise to around those levels, I think he should be able to maintain a higher-than-average BABIP and that should help him in the average department.

      The steals, though, yea… I doubt he gets much more than 5 each year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Andrew says:

        Samuel- Yeah, I agree that Bruce could hit .300 in the future. I guess it was a bit incorrect of me to characterize his batting average potential as “limited.” Even on the basepaths, I think he’s got the speed to steal 15+ if his instincts ever get that good. I was only thinking “limited” compared to his incredible HR-hitting, run-producing potential.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Great article as usual. My only beef is the comment attributing Bruce’s 2009 unusually low LD% to “official scorer’s bias.” Unless there is proof of bad data, such a comment must be disregarded. Assuming Bruce had the same official scorer as other teammates, did other Reds suffer a drastic reduction in LD% for 09?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. David Golebiewski says:

    Bruce’s increase in fly balls hit definitely played some part in his BABIP dip, as fly balls have a lower BABIP than other batted ball types. But the drastic fall seen in his 2009 BABIP just screams “fluke!” to me.

    I think the line drive% comment is precisely why people can’t wait to get their hands on Hit F/X. Instead of just having someone say “that’s a fly ball” or “that’s a liner”, we will be able to quantify it- the speed off the bat, the launch angle and the horizontal placement of the ball.

    It should be a great step forward from the more subjective batted ball “bins” that we use right now. If someone like Bruce is beating the snot out of the ball but getting a raw deal, we’ll be able to show that.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Dude says:

    Great article……..I came to the exact same conclusion when analyzing stats from this year. He is my top OF target in 2010.

    I just hope that others in my league do not see this!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. MarkInDallas says:

    Bruce’s LD% would suggest a drop in BABIP to about .250, so .225 is probably due to a bit of bad luck. However, simply dismissing the smoking gun because it doesn’t jive with your view of Bruce’s talent is a bit weak.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Jimbo says:

    In terms of 2010 draft, I wonder how “hyped” bruce will be. When I consider other players likely to go near bruce, one comparison comes to mind–Adam Lind. Everyone knows who he is by now, but in 2009 Lind ACTUALLY PUT UP the stats Bruce owners would hope for next year. Over .300 avg, 35 hr, 114 rbi. Yet I won’t be surprised to see Bruce taken before Lind in many drafts, including my own.

    Personally, I can see the affection people have for Jay Bruce. I can see where he’s grown and how much potential he has. But I can’t figure out why he’d be a better draft pick than Adam Lind (if I’m accurately estimating their draft positions). In the first 10 rounds, I’m more concerned with reliability than upside. Bruce might be better than Lind next year, but Lind has proven his skills at this level.

    Anyone have an over/under for where Bruce *should* go? He went in the 9th round of my league draft in ’09 (11 team 5×5, no keepers). If he’s around inthe 7th I’ll be shocked…but I’ll also be a Bruce owner.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. I expect Bruce’s ADP to be well over 100 everywhere except the smartiest of the smart pants expert drafts. Last year, he was a hot play around the 6th and 7th round. This year, no one with a modicum of common sense will fail to penalize him a couple rounds – at least.

    The 7th-10th rounds are tpyically spent getting SP and closers. Putting Bruce after that makes him an 11th rounder – ADP 110-121 in most leagues.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. BenJ says:

    David, as one commenter already suggested, you’re way out of line with the LD% scorer bias comment. Particularly since you’re citing BIS data, where over a dozen different scorers rotate games every night. Whoever is scoring the Reds game one night might be scoring the Orioles the next day and the Dodgers the day after that.

    Bruce probably was a bit unlucky this year with getting hits to fall between fielders (and I hope he was, for the sake of my keeper league team), and you’re absolutely correct that objective data will improve the accuracy of our assessments (in theory, at least). However, I wouldn’t blame scorer bias where it doesn’t exist, or at least when you can’t cite evidence that it exists.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *