Poor Jay Bruce, after years of being a stereotypical slugger, and a dead pull hitter, the league has finally caught up with him. Here is what this article is going to look like in picture form.
Jay Bruce spray chart courtesy of Fangraphs
First of all the great wall of green says only one thing to me, shift city. Shifts are truly the bane of my fantasy existence; player's deficiencies at the plate are being exposed in ways we never saw until the last ten years, in general pitching is succeeding, something I don't want to watch or root for.
Jay Bruce is a hitter stuck in his ways. If you look at his spray chart from 2012 and 2013, it's more of the same, fly balls to left, ground balls to right. When you drop you shoulder to try and create loft, this is an extremely common thing. I'm ok with it because it allows players to hit more home runs, but the fact that he pairs that with timing issues makes this harder to stomach.
Jay Bruce has a very hard time hitting grounders to the left side of the field. His ground ball to fly ball ratio to LF was .36, to the pull side it was 2.68. This confirms my assessment that he has swing plane issues, which are obvious when you see an astronomical ground ball rate to the pull side, and an astronomical fly ball and IFFB% to the opposite field. This would be a pill that most people could swallow if he had more balance in the fields he hit balls to, but last season alone he hit 100 more balls to RF than LF. Long story short, opponents where Bruce hits the ball.
If the picture I painted isn't clear, Bruce is a dead pull hitter, and his average will continue to suffer, .260 is probably the best case scenario from now on. But can he go back to hitting 20+ HR, which he had in the 6 seasons prior, and 30+ in the last 4 seasons?
Last season he had a torn meniscus in his left knee, not good when you are a power hitter who does lean back on that knee mid swing.
Jay Bruce gif courtesy of SBNation
The result was Bruce's average home run and fly ball distance being 284.64 ft, 100th in the MLB. To put that in perspective he was surrounded by the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Kelly Johnson, Sean Rodriguez, and Adrian Beltre. In the past two years, he was averaging roughly 10 more feet on his home runs and fly balls. 293+ would propel him into the top 50 distance hitters. If he goes back to being around top 50 he'll be around names like Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, and Torii Hunter. The extra few feet should add a few opposite field home runs, something that he had 0 of last season.
If he can go back to that standard, Jay Bruce should be expected to be back in the 25+HR club, something I think he will do next season. Bruce has been incredibly predictable as far as his K's and BB's, they've trended in the wrong direction for the past few years, but he should be fine next season as far as fantasy home run production goes.
Last season his 12 steals were a career high, his speed score was actually not at a career high, maybe he's become better at reading pitchers, but with a fresh knee, 10 SB again would be the dream, but you can bank on 5. I haven't found anything on Bruce referencing why he stole more bases. It may merely be because of his drop in extra base hits, or because Bryan Price decided last season that the Reds were going to run (hello Todd Frazier), but either way, it was the sole bright spot for him last season.
Here is a projected Reds lineup for next season:
CF- Billy Hamilton
3B- Todd Frazier
1B- Joey Votto
C- Devin Mesoraco
RF- Jay Bruce
2B- Brandon Phillips
LF- Chris Heisey, LH hitter platoon (Winker until he takes over the position)
SS- Zack Cozart
The problem with Bruce going forward is that he is a big name player with a good fantasy track record, in a great hitters park, surrounded by other former big names. His off year didn't drop his price much, and with a surrounding lineup of Votto (perpetually hurt), Mesoraco (stud, but can he repeat) and Phillips (at age 33 he's finally finished) followed by garbage, leaves him overvalued at #51 on ESPN's early 2015 rankings. I'd happily draft a .240, 70+R, 25HR, 70RBI, 7SB later, but with his floor being close to a less powerful 2014 Chris Davis, and his upside being something like last seasons Anthony Rizzo, there isn't a ton more to expect from Bruce, but there is a chance he completely bombs again. Another very real possibility is Jesse Winker taking over LF, and Bruce becoming the strong side of a Bruce/Free Agent lefty mashing platoon in right field. There simply too many red flags to invest in a guy who only provides value in the home run category next season. Even if he does reward you with 30 HR, the team around him will not support his R and RBI totals enough to make it work as it did in the past, and at this point he appears set in his ways and ok with suffering from a low batting average as long as his home run stroke is there. So next season, exercise caution when looking at Jay Bruce in the 5th round or earlier, you're drafting a one category even if it is everyone's favorite category.