- Jay Allen Bruce turns 26 on April 3 - Game 2 of the 2013 season. Unlike just about any 26 year-old in the majors, Bruce already has a long track record of 669 games. Only Justin Upton is younger and has played more.
- Baseball Reference doesn't list a nickname for Bruce, but he’s been tagged with several monikers at Red Reporter. Off the top of my head: Beaumont Bomber, Jay Hova, and the Boss.
- As a kid, Bruce idolized Ken Griffey Jr. He once called the Kingdome and asked to speak with Junya.
- Bruce went to West Brook HS in Beaumont, Texas. So did James Ewing, an infielder of limited upside in the Reds' system. They're about the same age, so I have to wonder if Bruce put in a good word for his fellow Bruin Bear.
- I'm glad I took five minutes to read the Wikipedia page on Beaumont. Bruce isn't even close to its best athlete - Babe Didrikson also grew up here, and the town built a museum in her honor. Frank Robinson was born in Beaumont before his family moved to Oakland when he was a tyke. The Winter Brothers and The Big Bopper also hail from Beaumont. But they've also given us Kevin Millar and his faux-ldy locks, so I'll call it a wash.
- Bruce tore through the minor leagues and was named the Minor League Player of the Year for 2007. He debuted for the Reds on May 27, 2008, starting in CF and hitting second. A star was born - he went 3 for 3 with 2 singles, a double, 2 walks, and a stolen base. When he walked in the first inning the following day, he became the first player since 1977 to reach base in his first six plate appearances.
- As if things could get any better, Bruce hit his first four-bagger on May 31 for a walk-off, extra inning win against Atlanta. He was impossibly hot for the first several weeks, but foreshadowed the rest of his career with a prolonged cooling off period. In July and August he put up an OPS of .698. Still, I was ready to give Jay a Longoria deal that winter.
- Bruce fractured his right wrist on July 11, 2009 while making a diving play against the Mets. He would not return to the lineup until mid-September. Bruce still hit 22 homeruns in only 101 games that year, but thanks to an abysmal BABIP (.221) he reached base barely 30% of the time.
- Bruce put the wrist injury behind him and had his best year in 2010. He hit .281, easily the highest AVG of his major league career, thanks to a BABIP over a hundred points better than 2009 (.334). His OPS+ of 124, combined with excellent defensive ratings, gave him a bWAR of 4.5 and fWAR of 5.4. The cherry on top was his walk-off, division-clinching homerun against Houston on September 28.
- The abbreviated playoff run was not as enjoyable, but I gained a new appreciation for Bruce after Game 2 of the LDS. Bruce lost a flyball in the lights at Citizen's Bank Park, which gifted the Phillies two runs and possibly the game. Bruce didn't duck the media and took full responsibility: "I feel like I let my team down. It was in the lights the whole time. I tried to stick with it. It was a pretty helpless feeling .... It's embarrassing."
- The Reds locked up Bruce that winter with a 6 year, $51 million deal which included an option for a seventh year. We were appropriately giddy.
- Even with an eight-figure deal, Jay's heart is much bigger than his wallet. Just two months after his ML debut, Bruce met with the Reds' Community Fund Director to discuss how he could start giving back. Having a sister born with developmental disabilities, Jay has piloted a ticket program for fans with special needs to attend games at Great American Ball Park. He also took over the military-family ticket program "Aaron's Aces" after namesake Aaron Harang was traded in 2011.
- Bruce won the NL Player of the Month for May 2011. He hit 12 homers and 7 other XBHs that month, and drove in 33 and scored 23 runs. Following the breakout year in 2010, it looked like Bruce had emerged as a national star. But he cooled considerably, OPSing .735 from June 9 through the rest of the year. That winter he reflected on his season: "I wasn't satisfied, not at all. I had some achievements that were commendable I guess. But, no, I wasn't very happy with my year overall."
- Bruce recommitted to strength training and fitness that offseason. He came into Spring Training 15 pounds lighter, having spent the winter training MMA-style with fighter and fellow Beaumonter Cody Williams. Bruce became an elite power hitter in 2012, even if he was still dogged by inconsistency. Bruce finished third in the league with 34 homeruns. He received his first Silver Slugger and was named to his second All-Star team.
- Bruce was in the best shape of his life last winter. This winter? Same shape.
- Jay had an interesting conversation with RR's AC Slider last August. Check it out.
- MLB service time: 4.125
- 6 years/$51M (2011-16), plus 2017 club option. He earns $7.5MM in 2013.
Ratings via TheBaseballCube:
- Speed: 62
- Contact: 22
- Patience: 54
- Batting: 63
- Power: 93
Fans Scouting Report ratings (via Fangraphs) (2012 rating/career rating):
First Step: 59/66
Arm Strength: 87/90
Arm Accuracy: 81/88
FSR (Fans Scouting Report runs above average): 5/25
UZR/150 in 2012: -5.3
There continues to be a delta between how the fans and advanced metrics view Bruce's defense. UZR rates Bruce as stellar in 2009-2010 and below average since. Fielding Runs (on baseball-reference) tell a similar story.
PITCHf/x Hitter Profile:
We all know the drill with Bruce. When he’s hot, nobody drives the ball better. He’s ridden those streaks into a solid major league career, even if his career .255/.330/.483 slash line trails expectations following his stunning minor league performances as a teenager. For the past several seasons, optimistic Reds fans have predicted that this would be the season in which Bruce became an MVP candidate. Particularly so last year, when he broke camp in the best shape of his life. So … is 2013 the year?
The mythical age-26 season is often thought of as the year good players turn into great ones, entering a long and prosperous prime. I have no idea if that's true. This ESPN study does show that the largest OPS bump occurs between 25 and 26, but we're talking about a few thousandths of a point difference over other one-year age deltas. Besides, aging curves are general and there are plenty of outliers.
Bruce grew considerably as a power hitter last year, emerging as one of the top bombers in the National League. Overall, he put up a power-heavy 118 OPS+, the same as 2011 and six points lower than in 2010 (which was buoyed by a higher than average BABIP). Not only were his 34 HRs a career high, but he also smacked 40 doubles+triples (the first time he'd hit over 30 in his career). That's impressive given that GABP historically suppresses non-HR XBHs.
To improve in 2013, Bruce will have to either tighten his control of the strike zone, enjoy better fortune on balls in play, or hit on the road like he does at home. All three are unlikely by themselves, but hopefully we see improvement in one of the three. On the home-road split, Bruce gives up nearly 200 points of OPS on the road - a staggering difference which might even get worse with Houston's league switch (Minute Maid Park was the only stadium where Bruce hit better than GABP). On BABIP, 2010 is looking more like the outlier. But it's certainly possible to see a BABIP well above .300 for a lefty with decent speed who drives the ball as hard as Bruce.
What I'd love to see is better control of the strike zone, but I don't think we can expect sudden improvement when Bruce has shown consistent swing and walk rates throughout his career. His strikeout rate has sat at 24% during the past three years, which is high for Bruce's relatively modest walk rates (10.7% in 2011, 9.8% in 2012). It wasn't long ago that prospect mavens debated whether Bruce or Evan Longoria was the more promising talent. Like Bruce, Longoria struck out 24% of the time in his rookie year. But unlike Bruce, Longoria has lowered his K rate to less than 20% while increasing his walks.
Dusty thinks that Bruce is fouling off too many pitches, putting him in bad counts leading to Ks. That could be. But I think the biggest problem is that Bruce doesn't make contact on pitches out of the zone (about 10% worse than league average), so it's critical that he recognizes and lays off pitches out of the zone. Thankfully he brought down his out of zone swings in 2012 (29%, versus 31% in 2011 and about the same as 2010) - hopefully he continues that trend.
Then again, I may be missing the bigger picture as I drown in data. If Dusty and Bruce figure out how to ignite the hot streaks and suppress the slumps, we'll have the convenient #firstplaceproblem of Bruce and Votto stealing MVP votes from each other.