Jay Bruce Makes the Mets More Mets

Going into this trade deadline season, you might have thought that the Mets could use a fifth starter, or a center fielder with good glove and bat combo, or a third baseman, but instead they went and got another corner outfielder when they traded 22-year-old infielder Dilson Herrera and another minor leaguer for the Reds’ Jay Bruce.

Since the Mets have an affordable $13m option on Bruce next season, it may be a look ahead in case Yoenis Cespedes opts out of his contract. But in the meantime, Bruce makes for an uneasy fit on this roster. Sort of. Because he’s also perfect for the team, in that he’s just like the rest of the team. He makes them more like themselves.

Assuming that Bruce won’t play center — and even his biggest supporters wouldn’t wish that for the newest Met — it looks like the team just acquired their fourth corner outfielder. Cespedes’ hamstring woes, combined with his, uh, lackadaisical play in center makes him a poor fit there. That leaves a combo of defense-first Juan Lagares (once he comes back from thumb surgery in six weeks), the aging Curtis Granderson, and young corner outfielder Michael Conforto to man center field.

You might think that it would be difficult to make the Mets defense worse, but overall they’re only 21st in the league by overall defensive value, 18th by Ultimate Zone Rating, and 22nd by Defensive Runs Saved. It can get worse, and this deal, even if you think that Bruce is more meh (-8 by ZiPS) than terrible (the worst regular outfielder by UZR this year), will make the defense more terrible. Even though August Fagerstrom found that some of Bruce’s poor numbers were definitely earned, the fact that he’s pushing their only good defensive corner outfielders into center field is the real matter.

And it does have the chance to make this bad defense demonstrably worse. Take a look at how the Mets currently match up to the rest of the National League in overall defense by Defensive Runs Saved, and then how their outfield matches up. Their outfield defense is a strength right now, somehow. On the backs of Lagares and Conforto, it’s at least not as bad as the rest of their defense.

By pushing Granderson and Conforto to center, the Mets will undo their lone remaining position of defensive strength, really. They’re currently fifth in the NL in outfield DRS, and that should get worse, even if you can spell the starters with defensive wunderkind Lagares late in the season.

There are, of course, mitigating factors.

For one, the team has been worse against righties than lefties at the plate this year. They’ve been basically league average against them, while their weighted offense has been 5% better than league average against lefties. For his career, Bruce is 15% better than league average against righties, and he’ll even out the lineup offensively.

Maybe the Mets are the kind of team that need defenders a bit less than other teams. They have the fourth-best strikeout rate in the National League, and keeping the ball out of the field of play is a viable way to mitigate the bad defense. But if you add up homers, walks, and home runs to get a measure of the ‘three true outcome’ nature of every pitching staff, the Mets fall to eighth in the National League. They don’t necessarily limit balls in play an incredible amount.

One last thing, though. Dave Cameron once showed that team context matters for things like on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In his piece he showed that adding a little bit of OBP to a bad OBP team moves the needle less than adding more slugging to that same team. Perhaps, if a team is already pretty bad at defense, making it a little worse may not be a big deal.

Certainly, Bruce fits the team mold on the offensive side. They strike out (fourth in K% in the NL) and hit for power (fifth in ISO in the NL), and Jay Bruce normally strikes out more than league average and currently has the fourth-best isolated power in the big leagues. Once you have a team character on offense, you might as well stick with it. Adding a spray-it-around line-drive guy like Martin Prado is not going to change the character of this offense in one fell swoop.

So Jay Bruce came to the Mets. And he’s so very Mets. And maybe that’s okay.

We hoped you liked reading Jay Bruce Makes the Mets More Mets by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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ashlandateam
Member
ashlandateam

I don’t care if he sucks – I love Jay Bruce and will miss watching him in Cincinnati.

Bat
Member
Bat

I think this is more about the 2017 season than anything else.

I think this is an excuse not to re-sign (and therefore pay) Cespedes…in the winter the argument will be “Well, we have Bruce to pay LF” and they won’t even enter a bid on La Potencia.

They replace Cespedes at $25 million with Bruce at $13 million and say they’re good to go in LF.

Meanwhile, Grandy plays RF and Lagares in CF, with Conforto getting some time in each of the three OF spots (although highly ill-advised to play him in CF the Mets will try) and Conforto biding his time to take over a full-time corner spot in 2018 as both Bruce and Grandy are free agents after 2017.

What would have made a lot more baseball sense – and not just dollars and cents – is to go the extra mile for Lucroy. The Mets are dead in the water this year, I think, but acquiring Lucroy and having his above average bat, elite pitchframing, and (supposedly, from my limited reading about the guy) leadership skills behind the plate with Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, and Wheeler next year would be something.

But again I think this is about dollars and cents and the Mets front office / ownership sees a cheap replacement for Cepedes next year, and a prime excuse to the fan base as to why Cespedes isn’t needed: We have Jay Bruce!

Dave42
Member
Dave42

you are probably right as far as him being a cheaper Cespedes. It does at least give them the fall-back position I guess, because they can opt out of Bruce’s contract for $1mil. Best option may be that Conforto rediscovers his hitting and can take over LF, meaning both Yo and Bruce are expendable. Short of that, they will hopefully make some effort to re-sign Yo. If successful, bye-bye Bruce. If not, hello Bruce, bye-bye Yo.

Strangely, in his limited (31 innings I think) time in CF, Conforto has been very good. Watching him play CF, I hold my breath every time a ball goes out there, but he has done well so far. Nevertheless, there is no reason that should hold up and it’s not a long-term solution. Not even sure it should be a short-term solution.

Spiro Agnew
Member
Spiro Agnew

The dollar and cents argument gets a bit more complicated when you include finding a new second baseman for next year. I had always heard that the Mets intended to start Herrera next year. Now the Mets will likely have to find a free agent (i.e. more money) or settle for a less than ideal internal option (i.e. keep playing already mediocre infielders out of position).

hernandezhofer
Member
hernandezhofer

The Mets have Gavin Cechini, former #1 pick with an .829 OPS at AAA, ready to take over at 2B. He is playing SS now, but seems destined for 2B (28 errors at short). The trade of Herrera I think speaks to Mets deciding Cechini was their future over him.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

Ditto on Cecchini, or they’ve decided to stick with Flores. If you can get the kind of production he’s given of late from a 25 year old 2B, you’re in good shape.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

I imagine Conforto is now insurance for Duda, and will learn 1B in the offseason.