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Jay Bruce Still Has Some Juice

Heath explores the possibility of Jay Bruce as a source of cheap power in your 2016 fake drafts.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Bruce is listed as the OF44 over on FantasyPros, sandwiched between the likes of Joc Pederson (OF43) and Khris Davis (OF45). Basically, this once up-and-coming slugger has been reduced to the time of your draft where you are most likely grabbing one-dimensional guys. You might nab Bruce for power, or you might take Billy Burns (OF47) for speed. And the list goes on with un-sexy names like Kevin Pillar, Ender Inciarte, Matt Holliday, Denard Span, etc. Here at FakeTeams, the consensus ranking for Bruce was OF51. So we are more bearish on him than the general fake community.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Or have they?

It is true that Jay Bruce has not hit above .230 in either of his last two seasons. That is a factual statement. However, Bruce's lousy 2014 can be attributed in part to a left knee injury. Bruce got 30 games under his belt and batted .216 that season prior to succumbing to "left knee soreness" on May 4, 2016. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus the next day. He returned to the lineup on May 23rd, and proceeded to hit .217 for the course of the season. He only slugged .373 that year--the lowest mark since his rookie season when he slugged .453. In short, it was a season to forget.

I did some reading over on Fangraphs and found out a little more about the knee. I won't regurgitate the good folks over there, but the message is clear: Bruce has always had the ability to pull a baseball, and still does. What he no longer has, however, is the ability to protect the outer half of the plate. He used to have power to the opposite field, but now he is reduced almost solely to pulling the ball to right field. This leaves him vulnerable, and opposing pitchers have taken advantage by pitching him outside. Bruce obliges said pitchers by grounding out.

It all seems so nice and tidy for fake purposes, right? Bruce's knee injury has either weakened the knee enough or caused some change in the swing or the approach that has rendered Bruce a shell of his former self. Which is why the Reds cannot find a trade suitor for him.

So why waste the interwebs space, then? Well, Bruce has hit over 20 homers in every big league season sans the knee-injury season of 2014--when he hit 18 home runs in 137 games. Last year he hit 26 dingers despite being so one-dimensional. Bruce is still lethal when he turns on an inside pitch, and he had a .209 ISO last season to prove it. He also--gasp--had the lowest swinging strike rate of his career last season (11%). I mean, what the heck do you do with that statistic? I don't even know how to make sense of that in all of this sad story.

I do know, however, if we threw out the injury-affected 2014 that we would be discussing Bruce as a bounce-back candidate. Bear with me. Consider this fancy BABIP chart I have constructed:

YEAR BABIP AVG
2008 .296 .254
2009 .221 .223
2010 .334 .281
2011 .297 .256
2012 .283 .252
2013 .322 .262
2014 .269 .217
2015 .251 .226
CAREER .287 .248

As you can see, ole Jay Bruce has perhaps been a tad unlucky over the last two seasons. Perhaps. A tad. I know, this isn't the most scientific thing ever. But the low BABIPs from the last two seasons, the injury in 2014, and the career-best contact rate in 2015 have me slightly intrigued. I do not expect a full rebirth, especially not from a guy the Reds seem so desperate to try to trade. They know more than we do, after all. I do, however, expect some positive regression in the BABIP department and a return to a batting average that is closer to .240 than it is to .220. If Bruce can manage a .235 average with an OBP around .305 and slug over 25 home runs, I can live with that as my fifth outfielder. Which is what my colleagues here at FakeTeams will let me have him for. Thanks, guys!