Fridays Above Replacement

In Defense of Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce is having a resurgent season at the plate.  As of this writing, Bruce is slashing .273/.329/.581 with a 135 wRC+.  If the season ended today, this would be Bruce’s most prolific hitting season by around 11% on a per-plate-appearance basis.

This offensive uptick has likely increased Jay Bruce’s trade value a fair bit.  Thursday on a live baseball chat, the chater responded to a chatee that he feels Bruce is now likely to bring back a Top 100-type prospect in a potential trade.  If he’s correct, that is a great thing for the Reds.  As recently as Opening Day, Bruce had next to no trade value.

Lost in all the talk about what Bruce is doing at the plate is the elephant in the room; defense.  Because of his defensive metrics, Bruce’s overall WAR stands at 0.0 on FanGraphs and 0.4 on Baseball Reference.  FG uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) as the input for its defensive portion of WAR, while BR uses Defensive Runs Saved (DRS).  The two competing metrics generally agree about the quality of a player, but don’t always agree in the magnitude.  Both are measured as “runs above average for the position.”

Today, I want to explore what could be going wrong for Bruce and causing the defensive metrics to hate him so much.  As recently as 2013, Bruce was thought of as a Gold Glove-caliber defender.  Can someone really decline this quickly?

To begin, I’d like to present a chart showing Bruce’s UZR and DRS metrics since 2009.  The graph also shows the midpoint between the two measures, which is a nice (and valid) measure because both UZR and DRS have the unit of “runs.”

chart1

As we can see here, if you mentally smooth out the peaks and valleys, Jay Bruce is in a career-long decline on defense.  This is exactly what you expect to see for most defenders who are getting older and slower.  Defensive skill is generally thought to peak very early (think 20 years old) due to the fact that playing well at most positions it is tied to speed and agility, two things that decline from an early age.  The corner infield spots are two notable exceptions, since playing them well is more about reaction and positioning (and arm, for 3B).

Of particular note on this chart is that both DRS and UZR have agreed on Bruce being positive or negative each season except last year.  In 2015, DRS had Bruce as a slightly above average fielder while UZR had him as a slightly below average fielder.

Also of note, the enormous cliff off which these poor lines have fallen, as gravity inexorably takes its horrible toll.  Does gravity affect graphs? Hm.

(Note: DRS isn’t scaled to a full-season basis like UZR/150, so that is why DRS is way higher on the graph for 2016.  As the season nears its culmination, the two number are likely to get a bit closer than they currently are.)

Since I’m a fan of UZR over DRS, I’d like to dive in and take a look at UZR’s components to see if we can identify why Bruce is at such a highly negative rating so far this year.

(Mandatory disclaimer: Defensive metrics are highly variable and take a long time to become even somewhat reliable.  Folks disagree on exactly how long, but a safe consensus seems to be three seasons of data is required.  This becomes problematic since a player’s true talent level can change over the course of 3 seasons, but these types of metrics are the best we have at the moment.)

The components (for outfielders) of UZR, expressed as runs above average (RAA), are Throwing Arm RAA (ARM), Range RAA (RngR), and Error RAA (ErrR).  Basically, if you can accurately measure the contribution of an outfielder’s range, his throwing arm, and his ability to avoid making errors, you should be able to accurately measure an outfielder’s total defensive value.

First, I’d like to bring up a related topic.  This topic is Revised Zone Rate (RZR).  This easy to understand metric is simply how many outs you create on balls hit to your zone divided by how many balls were hit to your zone.  Since the people classifying this information have the ability to measure where the ball goes on each play, they can easily say whether or not a ball is in the right fielder’s domain without introducing any sort of bias.  Let’s check out Bruce’s RZR since 2009:

chart2

Before last season, Bruce’s RZR had never been below 90%.  Last year it was barely below 90%.  This year, it is below 85%.  While an extra missed play every 20 chances may not seem like a ton, over the course of the season we’re talking about 10-12 missed outs.  That means probably something like 6-8 extra singles and 4-6 extra doubles.  Equate those extra hits for the opposition into runs, and we’re easily looking at nearly a win’s worth of runs.  All from simply not making plays on balls hit into your zone.

From 2009 to this season, the average RZR for right fielders has fluctuated between .896 and .923.  Bruce has generally been average or above until this year.

Now, in graphical format, showing Bruce (B-RZR) and the league (L-RZR):

chart3

As far as UZR is concerned, the idea of RZR is taken into account in the RngR factor.  Makes sense that if you are getting to fewer balls in your zone, then your range is declining, right?  UZR takes that concept and expressed it as runs above or below average for right fielders.  How does Bruce’s RngR look?  Well, you decide.

chart4

With the exception of 2010 (which looks to be a major outlier on this graph), Bruce’s range has been on a steady decline for quite awhile, with another small blip in 2013.  If you’ve watched Bruce over his career, this makes sense.  There were times when I marveled at the balls he caught.  Now, there is very little marveling going on.

Currently at 10 runs below average, this factor is the largest factor playing into Bruce’s very poor UZR, and thus, fWAR.  The chart above isn’t adjusted for time played, by the way.  If Bruce were to be average from here until the end of the season, this would still be the worst defensive season of his career based on RngR.

The next factor to discuss is ErrR, or how many runs saved or destroyed by avoiding errors at a better or worse rate than other right fielders.  This factor isn’t all that special since most right fielders don’t commit a ton of errors given that usually the only way to receive an error is to drop a fly ball or air mail a throw that allows a runner to advance.  Since 2009, Bruce has been as low as -1.0 runs and as high as 1.4 runs.  This year he’s at -0.2 runs, so right around average.  No need for a graph of this.

The third and final factor that goes into UZR for outfielders is the ARM, or as mentioned above “arm runs above average”.  Some folks might claim an outfielder’s arm is his most valuable asset.  They’d be wrong, but some folks might say it!

The value of an outfielder’s arm manifests in two ways.  First, in throwing out runners attempting to advance on the base paths, and second, in suppressing the desire of runners to take extra bases based on your arm’s reputation.

UZR takes into account how often runners advance on you, how often they decide not to try, and how often the outfielder throws the runner out.  The speed and location of the ball is taken into account.  For example, a bloop single that is almost caught will not allowed a runner to advance first-to-third since the runner has to hold up a bit to make sure it drops.  On a play like this, the outfielder wouldn’t get any credit in his arm since it played no part in preventing the runner from advancing.  UZR also takes park into account.  Fenway Park, for example, has a unique left field due to the green monster.  Since balls ricochet off the wall into medium left field, it’s very hard to advance first-to-third when a non-Hanley Ramirez-type outfielder is patrolling left field.  As such, left fielders in Fenway Park don’t get as much credit for holding runners as a left fielder in Coors Field would.

Ok, with that out of the way, I’d like to present this posts’s final graph, showing Bruce’s ARM overlaid with how many outfield assists Bruce was credited with:

chart5

As you can see, there’s almost a perfect correlation between throwing runners out and how many runs and outfielder’s arm is credited with saving.

Assists are not scaled to games played on this graph, however.  So this season, Bruce is on pace for something like 10 outfields assists (he currently has 4).  Since ARM is expressed as runs above average, Bruce getting to 10 assists in 2.5 times more games won’t increase his arm’s value relative to the league, thus, it won’t move his ARM rating. Since Bruce’s ARM rating is the lowest it has ever been, we are left to conclude that Bruce is doing a worse job holding runners from advancing to third base and home.  When you think about the implications or worse range (shown above), it is easy to think that perhaps Bruce not getting to balls as quickly or directly is allowing more runners to advance.  I don’t have this data, unfortunately.

I have one more chart!  No, I didn’t lie.  Charts and graphs are different things!   This shows Bruce’s Inside Edge Fielding numbers since 2012.  It is not available before then.  If you aren’t familiar with IEF, you should be!  It is very neat.  Basically, each play is put into one of 6 bins based on how often fielders make plays on similarly hit balls in play.  If you make the play, you get credit.  If you don’t, you don’t.

Here is the graph with the first 3 bins:

chart6

I’ve shown the Even, Likely, and Routine bins because they tell you the most about how the tendencies of fielders are changing.

As you’d expect, Bruce continues to make a high percentage of the routine plays, although he’s at a 4-year low.  Where we see cause for concern is in the Likely and Even columns.  Bruce’s ability to convert likely plays into outs has declined every season since 2013.  After two seasons in the 90s, he’s now in the 50s and 60s.  And although the sample sizes are small for Even plays, Bruce has made neither of the plays classified as “even” this season.

Jay Bruce.  I love the guy.  I really do.  He can still hit, and will likely hit for awhile.  But based on what I can see with my eyes, as well as what I can see in the numbers, I think the days of Jay being a good defender are over. I suppose I picked a poor title for this column, as I haven’t really defended Jay Bruce.

Data pulled from FanGraphs.  Data provided to FanGraphs by Baseball Info Solutions, The Fielding Bible, and Inside Edge.

64 thoughts on “In Defense of Jay Bruce

  1. Absolutely fascinating article. It certainly backs up what the eyes have been seeing. Bruce had an incident in 2010 where he hit the outfield wall hard. After that he showed a phobia of the OF wall whenever he got close to it. He didn’t get over that until mid-way through the 2012 season and he became a more aggressive outfielder again. That carried over to 2013. Then 2014 and decline. It has to be related to the knee injury. He just cannot cover the ground he used to, or as quickly. Maybe he is holding back just a little subconsciously, afraid he might hurt the knee again.
    I had been holding out some hope that the Reds and Bruce could get together on a 3 year extension. But this certainly makes the case that the Reds probably should look elsewhere for their RF.
    No Patrick, you are right, you didn’t defend Bruce. You just condemned him to LF. Or worse, the AL and DH.
    Very interesting. Have a great Father’s Day this weekend, Mr. New Father.

    • Thanks, WV. I’ll certainly try! I just realized at 32 years of age, this will be the first “appreciation” type day or month I get to take part in. 😉

    • Actually, LF is probably a very good idea for a team that might acquire Bruce!

  2. Patrick, I kept waiting for the punch line or the big ‘BUT…’, but it never came. I was really hoping you would bring some hope for a defensive turnaround by Bruce. Sometimes facts are hard and cold and aging in sports is always hard and cold.

    Now Jay’s bat is another topic and just like a young prospect, if a player brings a bat, the team will find a place for him to play. LF would be an option. If Duvall continues to hit and his OF defense in LF translates to RF (with his arm, there’s no reason is shouldn’t), flopping Duvall and Bruce in the corner OF positions might provide a solution to Bruce’s career as a Red beyond this season, if a reasonable contract can be negotiated. If not, his bat has value in a trade this season.

  3. Patrick, maybe you can help me understand the defensive metrics as they relate to 1B, specifically Joey Votto, or maybe that’s a topic for another post. Votto’s defense drives a lot of fans crazy in misfielding ground balls and making errant throws, but Votto saves so many runs when fielding errant throws and saving throwing errors by other IF. How is that factored into 1B defense?

    • For first basemen, scoops actually aren’t counted in their UZR calculation. The idea behind this is that each 1Bman has such varied opportunities and varied degree of difficulty on their scoops that assigning a value to it would be difficult. Also, the prevalent thought seems to be that scoops don’t matter a lot, since most 1Bman make most of the scoops. There is very little room to deviate away from an average in a meaningful way.

      For example, Votto has 12 scoops this year (many off Suarez), where Anthony Rizzo has only 7 scoops (Bryant/Russell better accuracy). Wouldn’t make sense to give Votto additional credit based on his 3Bman being errant.

      As far as the other measures go, obviously ARM wouldn’t be included, but they get a new think called DPR (double play runs). It measure how good they are at turning double plays on balls hit to them, above or below average. Also, RngR still exsits, as does ErrR.

      Votto currently is sitting at -0.1 DPR, 0.9 RngR, and 0.2 ErrR, for a total UZR/150 of 2.6… slightly above average.

      I will concede, however, that because of the human-in-the-loop nature of these metrics, they lag by about a week or so. So next week we’ll see the effect of Votto’s poor games in Atlanta in the numbers.

      The most amazing thing about looking at Votto’s numbers compared to other 1Bman is just how bad some 1Bman are. If Reds fans had to watch Mark Teixeira, Mike Napoli, or Eric Hosmer (surprisingly) on a regular basis, they’d be clamoring for Votto’s average defense!

      Just to close with something more easy to swallow… Votto’s career fielding percentage is .993… this year it is .992.

        • You’re right… I just did a quick search on 2016 numbers… he’s been good his whole career and looks like 2016 might be a sample size aberration.

          Good catch.

  4. Great post.

    What really strikes me on the Revised Zone Rating chart is how *consistent* Bruce is in the years 2011, 2012, and 2015. 5 balls out of 250 is the difference. There’s your gradual decline from aging, or even small enough to be random variance. Leave out 2014 because of knee injury/surgery/recovery.

    Jay Bruce was basically the same OF in 2015 that he was in 2011 and 2012 in terms of catching the ball.

    2013 is the extreme (positive) outlier. The same number of opportunities, but Bruce makes *20* more plays. That dwarfs the variance mentioned above from 2011-2015.

    It has to be the effect of the centerfielder.

    Do we know if the Revised Zone Rating numbers account for plays made by teammates? The 2012-15 data really suggests an effect caused by switching from Drew Stubbs to Shin-Soo Choo to Billy Hamilton. Bruce makes fewer plays he can get to because his centerfielder makes them. (Or at least Bruce expects the CF to make them.)

    It’s the huge *positive* outlier of 2013 that creates the narrative that Bruce is in rapid defensive decline (instead of gradual defensive decline).

    Regarding 2016, we’ll have to wait and see. We’re dealing with such small numbers that it’s way too soon to draw conclusions. Not that 86 opportunities is a small number, but that the difference between a steady performance (77 catches would create a non-decline percentage) and the current number of 73 is small. That’s four catches. One play every 17 games.

    Those four catches may be an indication of something significant or not.

    • That’s an excellent point about the BHam effect. That has to factor in some. I was thinking more of the knee injury, but Hamilton in CF makes more sense. Maybe a combination of the two.

    • Great thought, Steve.

      Did a little reading. It appears as if Bruce wouldn’t be hurt by B-Ham in the RZR measure. As long as any player makes a play on a ball, the other fielders who could have made the play don’t get negative marks. Seems to be this way for all defensive metrics, UZR and DRS included.

      • Interesting. There has to be an explanation for the 2013 season being such an outlier. Without the 2013 data, Bruce’s defensive scores are pretty much in line with gradual age-related defensive decline.

        • Another interesting thing is that his superlative 2013 RZR isn’t borne out in his RngR factor for 2013. It was positive, sure, but not to that degree.

          A wild guess on my part would be that perhaps Bruce had a lot more easy-to-make plays in his zone that year than normal.

          After typing that last sentence, I realized I could check that using Inside Edge data… I’m not correct.

          “Routine” plays per inning:

          2012: 0.213
          2013: 0.218
          2014: 0.192
          2015: 0.217
          2016: 0.185

          2013 is certainly not an outlier here…

          Well, maybe we stumbled on something else… this season, Bruce is seeing his lowest amount of “routine” balls. That might be hurting him.

        • Just had another thought… since all these metrics are based on the league average, perhaps the league average RFer was worse in 2013 than other years, causing Bruce’s values to be artificially inflated…

          I’m wrong on that count, as well….

          Adjusted DRS per player (easier to count) for Top 30 RFers in the game:
          2009: 0.70
          2010: 0.26
          2011: -0.74
          2012: 0.92
          2013: 2.69
          2014: -0.67
          2015: -0.21
          2016: 0.78

          So, 2013 was the best season on average for all RFers… strange that the average is so far away from 0. Looks like Gerardo Parra and Shane Victorino caused that almost by themselves, with an amazing 55 DRS combined.

          Perhaps the guy grading RFers that year was nicer than average?

          • Hmm. But the Revised Zone Rate chart you presented shows Bruce had essentially the same number of chances (253 vs. 250, 251, 252) as the other years. I checked, he played about the same number of games each of those years, too. So on face, it doesn’t look like a coding difference, at least for that measure. The jump in 20 catches above the other three surrounding years just seems so extreme considering the variance otherwise is 5.

            Might be worth contacting the RZR folks and posing that question to them and see if they have any theories.

        • Sure, the same number of overall chances… but the IE data shows he had slightly differing amount of “routine” chances. Maybe we’re talking past each other?

        • Bruce wouldn’t get negative marks for Bham making plays that Bruce could make, but wouldn’t Bruce be getting positive marks if he was making those plays instead? In 2013, Bruce made 85 out of zone plays (fangraphs), the most of his career. That high number is presumably because he had to make up for Choo’s deficiencies. That would enhance his range rating for UZR, would it not?

        • What is it in a per inning basis? If I recall, he played more innings in 2013 than any other season.

    • The first thing I thought, too, is that the “decline” is exactly contemporaneous with the arrival of Billy Hamilton. They may, for example, just place Bruce a step or so further away from centerfield than they used to.

      Bruce’s “decline” also corresponds pretty much exactly with the turning over of the Reds’ starting pitching (and bullpen uglification). I understand that they try to compare similarly hit balls, but is there any real comp to the bullets being hit against the Reds’s staff this year?

      I am skeptical of defensive metrics, because they are almost by definition all small sample sizes. Bruce appears to be getting 1.5 balls/game hit towards him, most of which are routine flies that a relief pitcher would catch (probably only behind his back). The tougher plays going back to the gap or to the corner, or bloopers in any direction, just don’t happen enough to generate a whole lot of confidence in the result. On bloopers, for example, many of them in the gap are equally available to the center fielder or second baseman (which is why that play causes collisions), so Bruce rightly defers to Hamitlon or Phillips, both of whom are (or were) exceptionally good at bloopers, so who knows how to evaluate the data.

      Other things come into play, too. If your team is down 11-2, why risk injury diving for a relatively meaningless out?

      Having said all that, there is no question that young outfielders are better than old outfielders, and Bruce isn’t as good as he was 6 years ago. He is not a liability, though, and would make a very good leftfielder.

      • Right. There is always going to be some error and certain plays that get scored in a way that doesnt’ accurately reflect what happened.

        I’d say we’ve come a long way since simply using errors, though! 😉 I couldn’t write a full post about errors. Well, I probably could, but no one would read it before expiring of unnatural causes.

      • Interesting analysis from everyone. A nicely nostalgic moment from the other night when the two defensively declining guys (Bruce and Phillips) each made great throws to catch I-can’t-remember-who at third base.

    • I’d also like to add to Steve’s point about the numbers accounting for plays made by teammates. Does the RZR take into account how hard the ball is hit into a player’s range? I mean the Reds’ pitching was very very good in Bruce’s earlier years so balls were likely not hit as hard and “easier” to get to. This year, an extreme outlier is a year where our pitchers are getting absolutely hammered so it is plausible it is the reason he is catching less balls in his zone. Is this a valid argument or does the metric take that into account?

      • Yep, this is certainly a valid case. RZR itself does not count the hardness of the ball hit. Since it counts everything, the idea is that over a season it’ll normalize somewhat.

        Now, if the true talent level of the pitching staff has decreased (as it has this year), we’d expect more hard hit balls that are more difficult to field.

        After thinking about it, I think you’re probably correct that the pitching staff plays a large part in Bruce making fewer plays this year.

        However, that does not explain his poor UZR, since UZR does take into account the authority with which each ball is hit.

        • Got it. Thanks for the quick response. I don’t think there is much debate that his defense has declined but I doubt it is as much as these numbers suggest.

        • Yall beat me to the post, but I think the TERRIBLE Reds pitching seems to correlate somewhat with his performance. I have seen him have to leap over his head and/or dig hits out of the corner way more lately.

          I am certain that 1) Bruce is not a good fielder, specifically when coming in on the ball 2) Is not so bad that a team would not trade for him if they need offense (AL team especially) 3) On a different team (different stadium?) Bruce might be a better fielder statistically.

  5. His age makes a difference as does having Billy in centerield but the move to left maybe the overall answer.Billy will still be in center and Winker could play right with Duvall to third,Suarez to short and Peraza to second.This says sign Bruce,trade Cosart and BP QUICKLY.Just an idea of course.

    • Yes, his age makes a difference, as it does for all players.

      Billy being in center doesn’t hurt Jay’s numbers. See my reply to Steve above.

    • Wow. Duvall is playing a good left field and is considered challenged at third. Suarez is definitely challenged at short (third, too, but he’s looked a little better lately, imho), and I wonder how long it would take the entire pitching staff to quit in disgust, with only one excellent defender on the field.

  6. There is a very big market out there for a Jay Bruce. Almost all of the AL contending teams need or can use an OF/DH. Some NL teams are in need of an OF bat or could use one.
    That is a potential market of Balt, Bos, Tor, NYY, TB, Clev, KC, Det, ChW, Tex, Sea, Hou, Wash, NYM, FL, SF, LAD, and Col. 18 teams, some are more needy than others.
    Now for Cozart, the market is very small for him. Contending teams in need of a SS or even a 2B, are far and few between. KC, Balt, and FL might have a 2B need, and only the NYM have a SS need. A trade for BP seems non-existent.
    My best case Bruce trade scenario for the Reds could be a Bruce-Iglesias trade to FL for OF Christian Yelich. I hate to throw coins down the Yelich wishing well again, but maybe it could happen. Iglesias and Yelich are signed to about same length contracts. A pitcher would have to be included for FL to even entertain trading Yelich. But Bruce’s power could help FL with Stanton struggling so much. FL can exercise Bruce’s option for 2017 or extend him and get a good starting pitcher.
    The Mets come in second. Wheeler and Nimmo would be a nice return. I’d have no problem re-visiting a Bruce-Wheeler trade since Wheeler is due to return from DL in mid-July. But they have to get Nimmo’s bat too.

    • Yelich is a budding super star in the same mold as Joey Votto, just with slightly less power. I don’t think the Reds would ever get him with any sort of sane package.

      Nimmo, however, can probably be had.

      • Patrick (or anybody): Bruce is certainly having a good season, but it is also surprisingly good and still a small sample size. Do you think that other teams would be reluctant to part with good prospects for him, considering that?

        • Nope. I think most teams would accept his perceived defensive deficiencies. With the exception of an injured 2014 and a bad (maybe lingering effects?) 2015, he’s been one of the best power hitters in baseball since 2010. I think most teams would be willing to give something up for him now that he’s proven he can still hit.

    • With Martinez going down in Detroit they will be looking to fill that void. Same thing with Pence and others. Reds should get something nice for Bruce.

      • The Giants did get Angel Pagan back the other day, and not sure what they would part with for a few months of Bruce until Pence comes back. Where the Giants are really hurting is the fifth starter spot. Maybe a deal that also includes Straily would get something decent in return. … But not sure what the Giants have left in the way of prospects.

    • I think Baltimore would love to plug someone in at SS and move Manny back to 3B. Machado is a so-so SS.

      • JJ Hardy is due back this weekend. As soon as he comes back Machado will serve his suspension then go back to 3rd.

        • I’m slipping. I didn’t think Hardy was that close. Thanks for the update.

    • Early returns on that Stanton deal are looking pretty bad. Last year, he crushed when he played but only got about a half-season worth of plate appearances (318). This season he’s been brutal. They only owe him about another $300-million through 2027. What were they hoping for? The end of days prior to 2027?

      • Maybe they were hoping Stanton would opt out and they’d be off the hook for the end. Well, unless something big changes he ain’t opting out!

  7. In regards to defensive metrics:

    I’ve never understood why so many people seem to expect defensive metrics to be perfect representations of true talent level. We don’t do that with offensive stats. We understand there is variance there and a true talent .800 OPS guy may put up anything from a .700-.900, and it’s not that unusual. We understand that good hitters can have down years and average hitters can have really good years.

    But with defensive metrics, people often start questioning the stat itself if it doesn’t line up with what they think the player’s true talent level is. Why?

    I’m not saying the defensive metrics are perfect. There is a lot of subjective data that goes into it. But there are subjective factors that affect offensive stats as well such ad the strike zone and the difference between a hit and an error.

    • Good post, TCT. Always important to keep everything in the proper perspective.

  8. So this has already generated more comments than my other recent posts…

    A question to the loyal RLN readers… would you like to see something in the future similar to this but with Votto, Cozart, Phillips, Hamilton, Suarez, Duvall included?

    • No, only because it would be another Votto bashing affair. This Bruce post is timely because he is going to get traded. Cozart is probably gone but his defense is not an issue. The other guys are not going anywhere (so its not worth worrying about).

  9. Also, in regards to Bruce’s seemingly huge decline when BHam arrived:

    Just because the metrics don’t count against a player if a teammate comes into his zone and catches the ball doesn’t mean Hamilton isn’t affecting Bruce’s rating. Think about positioning.

    If Choo is in center, maybe you play Bruce away from the line and toward the right center gap a little more than usual because your center fielder had very little range. With Hamilton out there, you can put him towards the line more because Hamilton can get more balls in right center than Choo could. This could cause Bruce to get to fewer balls because the balls hit down the line are often low line drives that he wouldn’t catch anyway. The balls in right center that he used to catch that Hamilton now catches don’t count against him. But the ones that he used to catch that Billy can’t get to, and Bruce can’t either because he’s playing closer to the line, would count against him.

    • I’m not claiming to have this figured out. But that data shows Bruce was basically the same OF (in terms of range) in 2015 as he was in 2011 and 2012. Bruce was *astronomically* better in terms of getting to balls in 2013. It could be positioning like you mention. It could be that Bruce was more aggressive about his jumps or routes when playing next to Choo. But it was something.

      I think we can agree that Bruce is experiencing at least normal, moderate decline in his defense. Before we can come to a stronger conclusion (rapid decline), we need to figure out what that outlying year of 2013 was all about. Hard to believe he had that much more range in any meaningful sense other than an artifact of playing next to Choo.

      • I posted this above, but it’s also relevant here. Bruce made 85 out of zone plays in 2013, the most of his career. We may assume that was because of Choo’s lack of range. Maybe making so many out of zone plays skewed his rating in a positive direction.

        Hamilton may be catching balls that Bruce caught in 2013. If so, Bruce wouldn’t be negatively affected, but he wouldn’t get the positive benefit of those plays either.

        • That’s a good way to look at it. Rather than from the avoidance of negative outcomes, he’s simply missing the positive outcomes.

          Certainly sounds viable.

  10. I apologize in advance but maybe I just got defensive metrics….as applied to OF’ers anyway? Heyward is supposed to be the best of the best but didn’t he have a stellar Cards rotation pitching at the time? Doesn’t It make sense that superior pitchers are generally going to have fewer bullets and tough plays hit in their direction? Funny how Bruce was a very good defender with Cueto, Latos, Homer, and Arroyo having good years but he’s suddenly terrible in the last 2 years? Conversely put Heyward on the Twins or Rockies and I bet he doesn’t rate as the worlds greatest OF’er? I’m sure I’m wrong though?

    • UZR, the main stat I examined, takes into account how hard balls are hit to you. For example, not being able to catch a 105mph liner in the gap won’t count against you.

      The first stat I presented, RZR, was put up for its simplicity. And you are correct, that stat should be influenced by pitcher quality to some extent.

      However, the RZR stat is not an input to UZR, so as far as I can tell, the Reds bad pitching this year shouldn’t be screwing up Bruce’s numbers this year.

  11. The flip side too is that’s why we have Hamilton! He can run down stuff and help out our corner OF’ers….esp in a smaller outfield like GABP. If they think Bruce can maintain a .830+ ops for a few years then he’s good enough defensively. Its not like he’s Kyle Schwarber out there and Maddon was running him out there!

  12. Want to hear something silly?

    For his career, Billy Hamilton has made 65% of the plays categorized as “unlikely,” which an average fielder would make 25% of the time (range: 10% to 40%)

    The next highest Red for his career? Brandon Phillips at 39.7%.

    Unlikely (10-40% likelihood)
    Hamilton: 65.0%
    Phillips: 39.7%
    Bruce: 30.8%
    Cozart: 29.3%
    Suarez: 22.2%
    Votto: 20.8%

    Want to hear something even sillier?

    For his career, Billy Hamilton has made 22.6% of the plays categorized as “remote,” or between 1% and 10% chance to make.

    Hamilton: 22.6%
    Phillips: 7.6%
    Votto: 5.3%
    Cozart: 4.8%
    Suarez: 4.0%
    Bruce: 2.8%

    These numbers are from a spreadsheet I put together a few weeks ago, so numbers may be slightly different.

    • Inside Edge loves some Billy Hamilton! In all fairness though, by every measure, he’s an outstanding CF. His arm is the only thing that holds him back and it isn’t awful. He gets rid of the ball quickly and generally makes accurate throws.

      • Only drawback with Billy in CF is maybe try to ease up on a possible gapper in a 8-2 game in the 8th. If if its possible to throttle down competitive urges. Eric Davis had the same problem! He’d fly around and dive all over the place and he was too skinny to take the pounding. It took Eric a month to get home from the WS because he got hurt in the outfield. Weight training once again….see no reason why he can’t gain 10-12 lbs of muscle. He wouldn’t lose any speed.

        • It would depend upon his metabolism, wouldn’t it? A lot of injuries to outfielders on diving plays (shoulder, wrist) would happen no matter how much the outfielder worked out.

  13. Terrific article and the comments as well. Can anyone tell me whether/where I can check the defensive numbers against team finishes? I find it hard to believe that defensive peaking at 20 is that much of a physical issue and wonder if there is a maturity aspect as players learn not to bash themselves trying to make every play. If true, this may well correlate to team finishes as well as a player would seem more willing to dive, run hard, risk the wall, etc. for a successful team than a bad one routinely playing from behind.

    • I’m not sure of any place that has all of this type of data right alongside team performance, but on FG you can build your own tables using their built-in system. It’s sometimes a bit clunky.

      Whenever I want to do stuff like that I just import it all in Excel and then make my own data from which to pull.

  14. Great article on teaching me about sabrematics. But that play Friday night in Houston where Bruce ran all the way to the line and reaching up just before the wall, full speed and making the catch. My eyes tell me pretty good. Also compare Bruce’s right field play with the mix of players we see of opposing teams. By my eyes Jay Bruce outplays them as a group. A few young guns have passed them on arm strength though.

    • That was a great play. One that will likely swing his numbers back a bit towards positive, but overall, I still see a guy who ain’t that great anymore. He floats towards many balls rather than attacking them. Maybe it’s the knee, maybe something else. He’s certainly declined in my eyes.

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