2014 Reds

Down the Road: Jay Bruce

A few years ago, when I first started writing for Redleg Nation, I did a series of pieces about players who we knew were going to be with the team for a while. In the two and a half seasons since then, the makeup of the team has changed significantly AND we have more data about certain players. So, I thought it would be fun to do this again and see where we land. They will come at irregular intervals, but I hope to be done by Christmas. We’ll see.

I will note that you’re going to see a lot of advanced stats in this. They are more predictive than traditional stats. That’s just a fact. So, yeah, if that’s not your thing, you can stop reading now.

I’m starting with Jay Bruce because his last name is not Votto or Phillips. I’ll really be holding off on Phillips for all the obvious reasons.

Let’s start with a basic fact that everyone knows, but which we still need to be reminded of. Jay Bruce has spent most of the last six seasons in the major leagues and he is still going to be the second youngest everyday contributor to the Reds (assuming Hamilton doesn’t play everyday). He is younger than Frazier and Cozart and just a year older than Mesoraco.

He is still young but only 30 players have hit more home runs than he has by age 26.

I will now pause and show you a breakdown of his WAR to this point in his career.

Year bWAR fWAR
2008 0.8 0.7
2009 1.3 1.6
2010 4.8 5.0
2011 2.2 3.0
2012 1.6 2.2
2013 5.1 4.1

You can see, that though there is some in-season variation, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference pretty well agree on the kind of player Jay Bruce has been. They also agree that this year and 2010 were by far his best years. The reason these two years stand out is because of his defense. He rates as very good in the field in both those years and much less so in other years. His offense has been remarkably consistent over the last four years with an OPS+ between 118 and 124 every year and a wRC+ between 117 and 124.

Projections

There are a few numbers we want to look at closely when projecting Jay Bruce. The first is his k-rate. Bruce alarmed a lot of people with his career-high strikeouts this year. I’m not too worried, though. Strikeout rate moves around, but stabilize somewhat significantly around 150 plate-appearances. Bruce had a bad first-half with strikeouts, but they were down around his career norms during the second half. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that going forward Bruce will continue to strike out around his 24% career rate.

The next stat I want to look at is line-drive percentage. When Bruce has had bad years, it’s been because his LD% has been terrible. The connection should be obvious. Last year was Bruce’s best year for line-drives with more than 23% of balls in play being liners. This can only be good. Of course, this rate was split much like his strikeout rate, so it is possible we’re seeing a bit of an anomaly here as well.

Much like his strikeout rate, Bruce’s walk rate was concerning this year. Only during his rookie year did Bruce walk less frequently than he did this year. But, once again, this seems to be a product of his rocky first half, and not too concerning (he walked 12.6% of the time in the second half).

And, of course, we need to talk about age. There is still some debate about when, exactly, a player peaks, but the general consensus is that the age-27 season tends to be the spot. Next year, Bruce will be 27. Start your engines. The Reds have Bruce under control until the end of the 2017 season, which would be his age-30 season. That, very neatly, gets them right to the end of his peak.

I’m not going to try to project anything beyond WAR. The offensive environment is constantly changing and counting stats are going to fluctuate. In any case, here’s what we can reasonably expect from Bruce over the next four years.

Year Projected WAR Projected Value
2014 5.5 $27.5M
2015 5.25 $26M
2016 5.0 $25M
2017 4.5 $22.5M

For value here, I’m using a quick-and-dirty $5M/win. There has been a good debate recently that the value of a win on the open market is closer to $7M. In either case, the Reds are likely to get at least double what they’ll be paying Bruce in terms of value.

It’s also important to note that Bruce has really only had four full major league season, and in three of them he was quite good. Given that, as long as he avoids a repeat of his miserable 2012 fielding performance, he should be fine.

In the end, the Reds have a player who is consistently well above average and on the front end of his peak years. This is a good thing. He’ll finish his contract with around 300 homers and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds wanted to extend him, especially if power hitters continue to be scarce (only 9 players managed 30 home runs this year). Given inflation, the Reds could most likely tack another four or five years onto Bruce’s current contract at the $13M he’ll get in 2017 (assuming the Reds pick up that option) and still derive significant value.

It may be that I am much too optimistic about Bruce, but he is at his peak right now, and we have to give him some extra credit for that. The thing about projections is that they are guaranteed to be wrong, but I feel comfortable asserting that a worse-case scenario still involves Bruce being worth what he’s getting paid. The Reds are lucky to have him.

42 thoughts on “Down the Road: Jay Bruce

  1. Thanks for the analysis. I would certainly be in favor of extending him through his age 35 season, if for no other reason than to make him a more attractive trade piece immediately prior to when his 10/5 rights kick in.

  2. The one remaining question about Bruce it seems to me is whether this new hitting coach can get him to stay off the breaking ball that is not in the strike zone. I do not mind his striking out, but so many of them come on pitches he could not possibly hit because they are not even close to strikes. Imagine if Bruce could consistently hit around 300, then they would really have something. If Earvin, Yorman, and Winkler are as good as we hope they will be, something will have to give.

  3. When Bruce stated his preference to remain with the Reds, I was initially hesitant about the Reds signing him long-term; however, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I think it might not be a bad move, depending on where it runs to. Age 35-36 seasons? I don’t think that would be terrible, especially after what Beltran has been able to do at the same age.

    This is unrelated, but BA’s list of Reds top prospects came out the other day. They have Robert Stephenson as the Reds top prospect, which led some people to say that they can’t wait to see him in the Reds bullpen next year. This was not meant to be sarcastic, a joke, or ironic. They would rather see him in the Reds bullpen next year than starting in 2015. What?

  4. if bruce maintains his current level of prod ie .260+/.335/30HR/100 rbi rate, he will be a valuable player and key to reds success. but like others on this site, I feel he can be better, just small improvements to contact rate and walk rate and bump his slash line to .280/.350/.500, he could be a real powerhouse in the league. I like reviewing the player comps on baseball-reference site and gives me some positives that Bruce still has growth opportunity to be a superstar.

    I hope Reds can keep him for his career and when there is talk of reds great with initials JB, its no longer safe to assume Johnny Bench is being referred to.

    Good article.

  5. With regard to Bruce’s K-rate, folks should be aware that heading into the 2013 season, K-rates in across Baseball went up for 7 straight years. In 2012, they went up a full 5 percent. To some degree, strikeouts are the price one pays in the search for more power. Power and the ability to get on base are a game-changing combination. If Jay can raise his OBP, he may see enough good pitches to raise his HR total a bit, too.

    Then, he might jump to elite hitter status.

    • @Richard Fitch: K rates were up in MLB and I blame that on the umpires. The strike zone was such that nobody could hit half the pitches that were called strikes. But ya gotta swing. If anybody in baseball can hit a pitch around his armpits, he’s not doing it very well.

      Hitters like Bruce are vulnerable to that high pitch because if it dips any at all, it’s in the river.

      I will take 1 or 2 HR from Bruce a week … and about 40 doubles.

      • @Johnu1: wow 40 doubles a week. LOL. I know what you meant but your 1-2 HR a week put Bruce on same rate as doubles, about 40 HR for season. and that would be an awesome 40/40.

      • I blame that on the umpires.

        Umpires are to blame for 7 years of increased strikeouts? Hardly. We are seeing a seminal change in the game. And it revolves around pitching.

        • @Richard Fitch: I can’t speak for the last 7 seasons. Part of it could just be that the hitters suck. But I can say, watching the games this past year, that there were more terrible strike calls than I’ve seen in a long long time. Data? Nah … but a pitch up around the armpits is not a strike.

        • @Richard Fitch: I also believe that the k rate is attributable to pitching: I recall Jose Rijo being a premier power pitcher with a 92-93 mph fastball (more than just speed or fastballs go into being a great pitcher, I know), which is pedestrian speed now. But I also recall, as an article of faith, that during my kidhood, the strike zone was stated as being letters to knees. If that was true, and it seemed to be, than it has undergone considerable shrinkage. It does seem that some umps don’t call strikes above the belt, but I don’t believe that this is a recent development. As for Bruce: I’m glad that he’s a Red. Better pitch selection would be welcome, but he is productive now and is usually an elite defender.

        • @Richard Fitch: I also believe that the k rate is attributable to pitching: I recall Jose Rijo being a premier power pitcher with a 92-93 mph fastball (more than just speed or fastballs go into being a great pitcher, I know), which is pedestrian speed now.But I also recall, as an article of faith, that during my kidhood, the strike zone was stated as being letters to knees.If that was true, and it seemed to be, than it has undergone considerable shrinkage. It does seem that some umps don’t call strikes above the belt, but I don’t believe that this is a recent development.As for Bruce: I’m glad that he’s a Red.Better pitch selection would be welcome, but he is productive now and is usually an elite defender.

          There are some statistics that show that the average MLB fastball has risen several mph over the past few years.

        • @CaptainTonyKW: Absolutely. Athletes get stronger and better in sports such as Track and Field and Football. Why shouldn’t they in Baseball? Just like the lowering of the mound in 1969 due to the dominance of pitchers, don’t be surprised if another season of dominant pitching results in new cries to change the game to aid hitters.

        • @Richard Fitch: No doubt the athletes are stronger etc. However, as a guy who has been around since before the center field camera became the standard way to present the action between the pitcher and the batter, I also have no doubts that many more “high strikes” are being called, in particular since the advent of the computerized grading system for the umpires. On the other hand, I think the lateral (horizonal) strike zone may have shrank a little bit. So, it is hard to say that the umpiring is the major factor.

        • @OhioJim: Well, it’s certainly true the that the strike zone has fluctuated depending upon the period. Back in the 60s according to players who played at the time, the top end of the strike zone reached to the bottom of the neck, and anything below the beltline was a ball. That was when umpires wore balloon chest protectors. I suppose the point is that umpires didn’t get as low as they do now. It’s definitely true that the inside strike that was called years ago is no longer called today.

        • @Richard Fitch: By 1960 or so there was only one ump in the National League, Jocko Conlan, still using the balloon protector. However it was still the standard in the AL; and as I recall, the strike zone you described was considered to be the AL zone while the NL had become known as a “low ball” league as far as called strikes.

          I recall from the late 1960′s some “scout” type brought in by either one of my high school or summer league coaches to talk to our team telling us that in the majors, the functional vertical zone was from a bit below the knees to no more than a couple of inches above the belt. This guy seemed to believe that the pitchers were so good that if they were given a larger zone to work with, offense would be nonexistent.

    • @Richard Fitch: Statistically, a drop of 5% is essentially meaningless. That’s like in flipping a coin 100 times, you would actually get heads or tails 45-55 times and not exactly 50 times, which is very likely.

      As for trying to explain any change, well, there was an increase in HR’s for several years there. That was explained to the great increase in smaller parks in the league, intentional methods in trying to get the ever paying fans closer to the game. Now, with the games lasting longer, it is highly likely the umps are trying to expand the zone a bit. I do believe it is part of that as well as better scouting reports and the use of the advanced stats. As well as probably part of the players trying to hit 500 foot HR’s instead of 400 foot HR’s and, thus, trying to swing harder and, thus, missing more. With Bruce, though, I believe part of it came from he was trying to learn to hit more to the opposite field, as I posted below.

        • @Richard Fitch: Statistically, yes, Richard, it is essentially meaningless, as I shown. Things can quite plausibly vary 5% from one year to the next. Now, have a drop of 5% every year for, say, 5 years, then you have something else.

          The only people I know talking about it is you right now.

        • @steveschoen:

          The only people I know talking about it is you right now

          Me and the Boston Globe, ESPN, Bleacher Report, Anthony Castrovince over at MLB, Fangraphs, Sports Illustrated, etc.

          Cute response. Still wrong.

        • @Richard Fitch: Where do they say that a 5% drop in one year is meaningful? I can’t find it anywhere on any of the pages you mentioned. Nice to say a bunch of names. It’s another thing to show where they are saying that a 5% drop is statistically meaningful.

        • @Richard Fitch: As it states on a Cal State Long Beach website for their PPA 696 course “Research Methods”, it tells, as well as generally accepted throughout academia and the statistical world, 5% is a general accepted error for highly related items. Like here, K-rates from one season to the next, highly related items, 5% difference would be considered generally accepted.

          You only get into lower percentages of error when you start talking about “Six Sigma” programs and the popular “Black Belt” programs that GE started as cost cutting measures. For a simple example, if a part is to be made, it is to be within +- 3 standard deviations from its mean, or 99% accurate, aka 1% error. But, as the website tells, this would also be for a much greater sample size, probably a hundred times greater than Jay Bruce’s AB during a season when talking about the number of bolts a plant may use on a machine during a year.

        • @steveschoen: You sort of touched on this, but the 5% designation is pretty arbitrary. We accept it during research in most fields because it is easy and works for our purposes most of the time, but 5.5% or 4.5% could just as easily have been the allotted designation of error. For instance, DNA similarity analysis, like the programs you mentioned, use error margins that are much smaller than 5%, simply because the tests were not rigorous enough to fit the material. Whenever we get P values of 0.93 instead of 0.97 in animal behavior studies we say that the phenomenon is “biologically, if not statistically, significant” and “requires further observation”. Requires further observation!

  6. Pretty obvious what Bruce was doing. He was trying to work hitting the opposite way this past season, making an adjustment. And, it worked for him. The only thing, in learning to do that, I believe the K’s will go down and it will make him an overall better hitter overall.

  7. The decision on extending Bruce to a career contract will be a very difficult decision. There is no question that Bruce’s development and production has made his current contract very team-friendly, but the risk in that contract was double sided. If Bruce had not developed the consistent production, the team would have been stuck with a burdensome contract for several years. The Old Cossack is not a fan of giving a player the big contract during the later, declining years of production as some kind of reward for previous years of production, at least not under the current system of inequality imposed by the CBA. I can certainly see value in Bruce during his age 31+ seasons, but those will be declining power seasons and a justiable contract extention must compensate for that declining power (and probably speed/defense). The other factor to consider is the available replacement cost, including the compensation pick the Reds would relinquish by extending Bruce’s contract. The Reds may have 4 OF with similar or better major league prodution expectations by 2018, for significantly less cost. That’s just the nature of the CBA and the imbalance dictated upon small and mid market teams.

    If baseball ever decides to make the changes necessary to establish true competative balance (never going to happen!) by imposing a hard salary cap or a luxury cap with real teeth and including all international signings costs within that cap, then keeping players like Bruce through the end of their career for small and mid market teams will be more economically feasible. Until then (again not going to happen!), the small and mid market teams will continue to face those tough decisions under restrictions dramatically favoring the large market teams. I would also want to see contracts for any and all suspended players count against any salary cap or luxury tax for the team, requiring the teams to more actively monitor and enforce the rules rather than simply turning a blind eye to such violations.

    I guess the ideal environment for the Old Cossack would be integrity, accountability and equity, something lacking not only in professional baseball, but society in general.

  8. It’s interesting to take a look at Bill James’ similar players… Most similar through age 26:

    Tony Conigliaro, Tom Brunansky, Reggie Jackson, Jack Clark, Jeff Burroughs, Troy Glaus, Roger Maris, Boog Powell, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds

    It would be nice if his power numbers and OBP jumped the way a few of those guys did (minus the steroids)

  9. Matt Gelb/Philadelphia Inquirer & Ken Rosenthal/FOXSports are both reporting that the Phanatics have signed FA C Carlos Ruiz to a 3 year/$26MM contract. Ruiz will begin his age 35 season as a catcher in 2014.

    Ryan Hanigan will begin his age 34 season as a catcher in 2014. With 2012 an outlier for Ruiz and 2013 an outlier for Hanigan, the two players have produced fairly similar results over a 162 game schedule. Over a 162 game season, Ruiz has averaged a little more SLG (primarily doubles) and Hanigan has averaged a little more OBP. Hanigan has been a consistent shut down receiver for the running game and Ruiz has been pretty much league average.

    Hanigan 8 HR; 17 2B; .275/.370/.359
    Ruiz 10 HR; 33 2B; .265/.358/.392

    I think the contract offered to Ruiz simply reflects the value other teams will place on Ryan Hanigan, especially since he is under contract for a meer $2MM in 2014.

  10. Could we be seeing the market for the two premier FA OF starting to soften? Several teams are interested in either Ellsbury, Choo or both, but virtually every report I’ve seen reflects a waning of interest at the rumored contracts for both over 30, Boras represented OF. If the next tier of OF start signing and decreasing the number of teams interested in Choo and Ellsbury, the market could start dropping precipitously. How about going out there hard right now with a 5 year/$75MM offer with a one year vesting option for another $15MM, then moving on if the offer is rejected. That would make the picture clearer regarding the Reds needs and available options for 2014.

  11. Jon Heyman/CBS reports via Twitter…

    jeff niemann has elected free agency after being outrighted off rays 40-man roster

    This could be a very interesting pickup for the pitching staff as a budget starter with high upside. In 5 major league seasons as a starter, Niemann has pitched: 6.8 SO/9; 2.9 BB/9; 1.1 HR/9. Over the past 2 seasons he pitched (rotator cuff surgery sidelined him in 2013) those figures are more impressive: 7.2 SO/9; 2.5 BB/9; 1.0 HR/9. In 2012, Niemann had a GB% over 50%, although prior to 2012 he was pretty much league average for GB%.

    • @Shchi Cossack: I remember liking Neimann a couple of years back, but shoulder surgeries on pitchers are no joke (ask Halladay or Santana). Medicine isn’t as good at fixing them as elbows. It couldn’t hurt to float him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, but I’d be afraid of damaged goods there.

  12. I honestly think Bruce is capable of a 50-HR season unless he goes to tinkering with his approach. What’s nice is that the Reds have 2 guys teams are likely to pitch around. If we had a third such guy and a leadoff guy like Choo, well ….

    Votto and Bruce are pretty nice cornerstones. I’d rather see Bruce keep doing what he does (with the exception of being a little more selective at times) … and when it’s time to pay the man, pay the man. He’s gonna have 600 HR for his career. Not many guys did that.

  13. Ken Rosenthal/FOXSports via Twitter…

    Sources: #Reds, free agent Skip Schumaker agree on two-year deal, pending physical.

    There is the obligatory off season, utility IF signing by WJ. With Hannahan and Schumaker both signed for 2014, something will have to give. Neither IF can play SS on a regular basis. If Schumaker is slotted as a utility OF, then XP will have to go and an additional utility middle IF signed. Of course, WJ may be taking a different tack this season and actually signing a PH for a utility role. Schumaker slashed .265/.332/.332 last season and that’s a significant improvement over Hannahan (.217/.317/.288) or Izturis (.209/.259/.271). I guess the 3rd option would be to eat Hannahan’s contract, but I don’t see that happening.

    • @Shchi Cossack:

      At first thought, this is a bit of a head scratcher. But I have been wondering if Hannahan will be part of a trade package and this might signal it so. I don’t see him being released, like you. They did say they wanted to improve the bench, as this goes in that direction, along with Pena’s signing. Like a chess match, WJ is getting his pieces in place.

      • @WVRedlegs: And we know how powerful those pawns can be in controlling the board. I actually like this move, at least as far as it goes right now. we’ll have to see how it plays out.

  14. Of all the former Birds I disliked, Skippy was right behind Carp. I have to admit, rooting for him will be tough. Let’s hope he’s the hinge for a trade.

    I don’t get this one at all.

  15. Well.. “Skip Schumaker” is a great baseball name. Signing a guy like this gives you options. It means you can trade an outfielder or an infielder and not be left completely high and dry… worst case scenario is the Reds bench can hit a tad bit better perhaps.

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