Reds Blog Roundtable: Is Bruce turning a corner?

Contemplative Jay. - USA TODAY Sports

This week's topic for our esteemed panel of blog types:

After a rough April, Jay Bruce seems to be coming on lately, with a .915 OPS in the last two weeks and a .471/.500/.882 line in the last week (as of last Friday). Is he turning a corner on his way to have his best season yet? Is this the real Jay Bruce? And is this alternating hot and cold streaks going to be the norm for the rest of Jay's tenure with the Reds?

Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation: Jay Bruce is what he is. Yes, I think Bruce has turned a corner, and yes, I think 2013 will be his best season yet. I see no reason to believe that Bruce will not continue to be a streaky hitter, however.
Our greatest hope, I suppose, is that the cold streaks won't be quite as cold as Bruce matures and becomes a more experienced hitter. We already know how hot Bruce can get when he's hitting the ball well. Sure, everyone would love to see Bruce hit like that all the time, but very few hitters can maintain that type of pace.

At any rate, I'm very happy with the player Jay Bruce is, and I'm very hopeful about the player he can become. Keep in mind: Bruce is still only 26 years old. Think about that. Bruce has hit 30+ homers twice, made two All-Star teams, and he's younger than Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart, and Homer Bailey. He's already a very good player, and he's just entering his prime years.

Quite often, Reds fans have a tendency to ignore what a player does well and focus instead on that player's weaknesses (see Dunn, Adam; see also Encarnacion, Edwin). Jay Bruce is a good player, but he strikes out more than Marty Brennaman would like. He isn't perfect. But he's very good, and I hope Reds fans will appreciate just how good he is, and how good he can be over the next few years.

Amanda, Red Hot Mama: At this point, it's still hard to tell whether Jay Bruce's streakiness is a symptom of just now being old enough to rent a car or a genuine characteristic of who he is as a player. Like a college student who can't settle on a major, he may be trying out a variety of different levels of awesomeness before he settles into the one that will become progressively more soul crushing until he can retire.

But I don't know if this is a good analogy. Do hot shots tend to settle down, or can you really be streaky throughout your career? I don't know enough baseball players to cherry pick anecdotes to support my position, so I went out to do some highly scientific research* and see what official-sounding information I could cherry pick.

I figure that Bruce's Player of the Week awards are a good indication of his streakiness: artifacts of fantastic stretches that act as a counterpoint to a still-good-but-not-really-fantastic overall career. I wondered how other multi-POW award winners measured up.

So I went to Wikipedia and copied the table of POW winners for this year and 2012 and plopped them into a spreadsheet. Then I alphabetized the rows and spent 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back deleting out everyone whose name only showed up once. I looked up the 25 remaining names on baseball-reference.com to find the easiest indication of overall offense: lifetime OPS.

Once I deleted out the pitchers, I was down to 18 multi-POW winners. Only Jay Bruce had won 4 in that time period, and he came in 13 out of 18 in OPS. Being at the extremes like that makes me think that it is not really typical for a guy to be that streaky, and he's probably going to settle down eventually.

Question is: where will he settle down? Continuous award winner or good-but-not-really-fantastic? Probably somewhere in the middle, which ain't too shabby: it's not like right field is the spot where you normally stash your slugger. There's enough other production on this team that a somewhere-in-the-middle Bruce will still be a valuable guy to have around.

By highly scientific, I mean I follow a rigorous methodology that calls for doing the first thing I think of and making an effort not to drop more than a half dozen or so rows of data without noticing. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I didn't account for Joey Votto winning the Player of the Week Award this week, which wouldn't have changed the results at all, but did give me the opportunity to mention Joey Votto.

kcgard2, Red Reporter:I don't think we can talk about Jay Bruce turning any corners at this point, at least not yet. A week or two of hot hitting happens to all players, all the time. And maybe if we hadn't just watched Bruce flounder to the tune of an awful .246/.296/.345 line for over a month, it would make more sense to talk about turning corners.

But we've seen all of this from Bruce before. In 2010 his July OPS barely cracked .500(!), which was followed by an August and September OPS over .1100(!) - equally impressive in each direction for how extreme they are. In 2011 Bruce put up an .1140 OPS in May (awesome), but sandwiched it with a .687 in April and a .649 in June (gross). In 2012, Bruce's whole season was a roller coaster of slightly less extreme swings: .950 to .760 to .850 to .750 to .950 to .780. At least all of those are presentable. But when Bruce is spending entire months with OPSs in the five, six, and seven hundreds, it's pretty unlikely he'll post season OPSs in the nine hundreds, and this is a pattern he's shown his whole career.

Bruce leads the league in doubles (he's turned a corner!), but he also leads the league in strikeouts (wait, no he hasn't). His batting average is matching a career high, but his OBP is 30 points off. And so on. Right now, I don't see any reason to think Bruce will outdo his 2010 or 2102 seasons, or maybe even match them. We know who Bruce is. It's not who so many fans wanted him to be, but he's still a solid player. If we look for evidence that he's "turned the corner" after every 10 game hot streak though, we're going to get whiplash.

ken, Red Reporter: With five full seasons under his belt, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Bruce continues to ride hot and cold streaks on the way to stringing together solid if unspectacular seasons. His latest run is certainly welcome, and brings his adjusted OPS up to 108. Which puts him another strong week away from matching what he typically puts up. If we're just looking at his overall production, this year is more of the same.

But what is different is his swing-happy approach. By swinging more and hitting fewer flyballs, Jay's done his best Joey impression - a killer LD rate (33%) and average on balls in play (.381), not to mention his league-leading 15 doubles. But it's also depressed his walks, stretched his strikeout rate to 30%, and limited his homeruns. I think the dingers will come, especially when the weather gets warmer. But the ballooned K:BB ratio (nearly 5 to 1) is a major concern. We're a quarter of the way through the season, right around when those rates typically normalize. I think Bruce needs to show better strike zone judgment just to match his production from last year, let alone surpass it.

AC Slider, Red Reporter: It's important to remember that Jay Bruce is still only 26 years old. Sure, he's had nearly 3,000 MLB plate appearances, but that doesn't make him any older than he really is. Young players tend to be more "streaky" than older players, for a number of reasons. According to href="http://baseball-reference.com/">Baseball-Reference.com, Jay Bruce (to this point in his career) is most similar to Reggie Jackson. Take a look at Jackson's splits for the 1972 season (age 26 season). Month-to-month he was wildly inconsistent. His OPS by month ranges from .550 in April to 1.034 in May.

The point is, young talented hitters will have bad stretches accompanied by MVP-type hot streaks. So, for the time being, we simply need to accept that Jay Bruce is still young and developing. With time, Bruce will become more consistent and the cold streaks will become fewer and shorter. Regardless, he's still a very good player right now. The next time he has a cold streak, just remember that a hot streak is not far away.

-ManBearPig, Red Reporter: Bruce started the season mired in one of the worst slumps of his entire career, slashing .252/.312/.339 in the month of April, with only one home run and a Stubbsian strikeout rate. But as the calendar turned over to May, Bruce heated up, honking 4 Beaumont Bombs and OPSing 1.015 so far this month. Slyde mentioned on Twitter about a week ago that he thinks that Jay may have changed his approach this season, but he was apprehensive whether or not it would work for him.

The batted ball data seems to reflect that there has been a change in approach. It looks like he's flattened his swing out a bit, trading in fewer fly balls for more line drives, at around a 10% change from his career norms in both categories. Bruce is also hitting the ball the other way with a little more regularity, and more of those opposite field pokes are finding grass this year than in years past. Looking at a spray chart for the month of May, it appears that he's still going the other way just as frequently as he was earlier in the year, but he's finding a lot more success at the plate overall. Time will tell if Jay's new approach is actually a new approach, or if this is just a small sample size anomaly at this point, but if it is, his slow start in April could be attributed to still working out the kinks of his new mechanics.

It seems like Bruce is trying to imitate Joey Votto, trading wangers for doubles, and using the entire field. Hopefully this new approach will help steady the highs and lows of the Jay Bruce experience, and provide a little more consistency. Bruce is never going to walk, and therefore get on base, like Joey Votto, so the question is will trading some slugging for batting average and OBP make Jay more valuable to the Reds?

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