With every lowball trade offer that comes my way for Jay Bruce, I am often reminded of the words of Winston Churchill who once said, “Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.” I am also reminded of the words of the recently departed Chuck Tanner — “There are three secrets to managing. The first secret is have patience. The second is be patient. And the third most important secret is patience.” These words couldn’t ring more true.
It’s tough, sometimes, to exhibit the necessary patience in fantasy baseball. You had certain expectations of a player, whether they were realistic or maybe even a little generous and now you’re looking at almost zero performance. It becomes more and more frustrating with each passing day as you see teams with inferior players having hot starts leap frogging you in the standings. But you need to take a breath, step away from the panic button, and don’t make any rash decisions.
Those that drafted Bruce this season had fairly high expectations coming into the season. His power numbers have gradually increased each year and with the Reds rapidly improving lineup around him, it was assumed that he was going to take his game to the next level. After all, in spite of a regression to his normal K%, Bruce posted a career high slash line of .281/.353/.493 and saw his wOBA jump to .363 for the season. He even learned how to hit lefties better. Things were clicking beyond the normal increase of HR and RBI output and he finished 2010 with a 5.3 WAR rating.
So where is it going wrong for him this season? Why are his batting average and OBP back in the toilet and why did it take up until yesterday for him to launch his first home run of the season? He had himself a solid spring but once the regular season started, he’s been a relative flop.
Normally, one would immediately turn to and cite an unusually low BABIP. That seems to be where most people run. But not only are we dealing with a time where the sample size is too small that the fluctuations too great, but Bruce, after Friday’s game, had a .300 BABIP. Prior to yesterday’s game, it was at .333, so it’s not like he’s just dealing with a little bad luck here.
To me, it looks like he’s just swinging for the fences right now. Too much emphasis has been put on power totals and rather than just do what he had done all spring and work at getting on base and making solid contact, he’s up there flailing away. All of a sudden, he’s up there swinging at more than half the pitches he’s seeing and has a ridiculous 38.1 O-Swing% making contact, just contact, only a little more than half the time. In fact, his overall contact rate is just 69.2%, well below league average, and his SwStr% is up to an unusually high 15.2%. It’s gotten to the point where he’s just not even seeing the ball well. He’s sporting a 33.3 K% and when he is making contact, he’s merely flying out at a rapid rate – 58.1%.
However, perhaps we’ve turned a bit of a corner after Friday’s game. With the Reds down 6-0 and Bruce sitting on an 0-for-3 with two more fly outs, he finally launched his first home run of the season, a monster shot to straight-away center. Even the announcers were impressed with the power as they noted the heavy winds blowing in all night long. Maybe it was just Charlie Morton getting tired and grooving a pitch down the pipe, or maybe, with the pressure off, Bruce was able to just get up there, relax, and do what he does. He took the first pitch for a called strike, looked at a ball on the next and then saw exactly what he wanted on the third pitch and launched it. Perhaps it was an at bat from which to learn and build upon.
It’s hard to say, especially with this slow start, whether or not Bruce will surpass last season’s totals. Personally, I thought some of the projections were a bit optimistic and somewhat unrealistic. A slightly improved walk rate and a .334 BABIP helped pick up that average and OBP in 2010, but I had a hard time seeing a repeat performance. I believe the power is definitely there for him to stay in the 25-30 HR range, but Bruce is likely to remain a .260 hitter with a BABIP falling closer to .300. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Believe me, I’ll be more than happy with a .260-25-75 line. But rest assured, he is certainly not going to hit .220 with only a dozen home runs.