Jay Bruce and the Power of 40

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce hit a career high 34 home runs in 2012. Can he top 40 in 2013?

Those of you who have owned Jay Bruce in fantasy baseball at one time or another know how incredibly frustrating it can be. Look no further than his monthly splits in 2012:

April: .296/.337/.617

May: .229/.296/.469

June: .253/.349/.505

July: .213/.340/.416

August: .290/.349/.600

Sept/Oct: .233/.295/.485

And for those of you who own Bruce in head-to-head formats, the frustration is doubled. (I'm one of them.) When the going is good, Bruce can literally power your team to victory. But when the going isn't so good, Bruce can tailspin your team with the best of 'em.

In 2012, Bruce took a slight step back at the plate, as his strikeout rate (24.5 percent) was the worst of his career, and his walk rate (9.8 percent) was his worst mark since 2008, the year he debuted. The result was a .252/.327/.514 line, the second worst average of his career, and a 14-point decrease in his on-base percentage from the year before. His slugging percentage, however, topped .500 for the fist time ever.

Looking closer, his .252-average seems somewhat fluky to me, as his line drive rate went up considerably (16.8 percent in 2011; 20.2 in 2012), and his ground ball rate didn't change much (36.4 percent in 2011; 35.4 in 2012). There's also the case of his BABIP, which, at .283, was the lowest its been in three years -- in 2010, for example, it was .334. If he can cut down on the strikeouts a little, I'm confident we'll see a significant increase in Bruce's average in 2013, possibly all the way up to .270.

Despite the annoyance that comes with owning Bruce, it's hard passing on one of the game's premiere sluggers. He still has a ways to go as far as plate discipline goes, but the power is more than legit. Since 2008, Bruce's home run totals have been 21, 22, 25, 32 and 34. That's a trend heading in the right direction, and, entering his age 26 season, it's a trend I expect to continue.

Many expect Bruce to reach the 40-home run mark at some point in his career, and for good reason. His .263 ISO in 2012 was tied with Adam Dunn for sixth best, and all Dunn did was hit 41 home runs -- albeit with a lousy .204 average. A big difference between Dunn and Bruce -- along with some other glaring ones -- is their HR/FB rates. Dunn led the league at 29.3 percent, while Bruce was 24th at 18.7. Out of the five players with a higher ISO than Bruce, only one, Edwin Encarnacion, had a HR/FB rate under 20 percent. And he still managed to hit 42 home runs.

Now, Encarnacion does't strike out as much as Bruce, and in 2012 he took more walks than at any other point in his career, but his batted ball data from 2011 prior to his 2012 breakout is very similar to Bruce's batted ball data from 2012:

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

Encarnacion (2011)

0.82

19.4%

36.4%

44.2%

9.4%

Bruce (2012)

0.80

20.2%

35.4%

44.4%

18.7%

Aside from a huge discrepancy in HR/FB rate, Encarnacion and Bruce compare favorably across the board here. In 2012, Encarnacion's HR/FB rate went up to (ding!, ding!) 18.7 percent. He did it mostly on the heels of a rising fly ball rate (49.5 percent), and a decreasing ground ball rate (33 percent). In the past, Bruce has shown the ability to hit more fly balls (48.7 percent in 2009; 46.7 in 2011), and he's actually hit fewer ground balls every season since 2008. It stands to reason that Bruce can absolutely experience a similar breakout season. It just won't be as surprising of a breakout.

An added bonus to owning Bruce is the unexpected speed. In each of the past two seasons, Bruce nearly stole 10 bases. If he can continue that trend, we're talking about a player who I think could hit .270 with 40-plus home runs, 90-plus runs, 100-plus RBI and eight or so steals, which would make him a borderline top five outfielder in 2013.

At No. 17 in the Fake Teams consensus outfielder rankings, Bruce represents a power bat you can wait on drafting after Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista are taken. He's still very young, hits in the middle of one of the league's best lineups, and plays in one of the most favorable ball parks for left-handed power hitters.

Don't let the frustration of owning Bruce in the past affect your decision on draft day. Only six players topped 40 home runs in 2012, and I fully expect Bruce to join the club in 2013.

Statistics from FanGraphs.

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