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.
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.
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|
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.