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Breaking Down Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce busted on to the scene last year at the end of May and didn't really cool off for the first 2.5 weeks of the season, after which he was hitting .382/.468/.632 and looked pretty much invincible.

And then the league started to figure him out and Jay went cold for the next 2.5 months, posting a .217/.244/.368 over his next 270 plate appearances with 74 strikeouts and just 9 walks.

He did manage to put up a solid month of September and finished the year with a respectable line of .254/.314/.453 - not bad for a 21-year old rookie.

Let's see if we can take a look at our sparkling new graphs and learn a little about Bruce's successes and struggles.


Click any image below to view a larger version above

Versus All Fastball Change Up Slider Curveball
RHB Bruce_2008_rhp_all Bruce_2008_rhp_fa Bruce_2008_rhp_ch Bruce_2008_rhp_sl Bruce_2008_rhb_cu
LHB Bruce_2008_lhp_all Bruce_2008_lhp_fa Bruce_2008_lhp_ch Bruce_2008_lhb_sl Bruce_2008_lhb_cu
  Additional Graphs:
First Pitch of the At Bat | With the Bases Empty | With Men on Base

The new yellow area behind the circles represents a cluster of power for the hitter. You'll see once we start looking at other players that Bruce actually has a small power cluster for somebody who posted decent slugging percentage.  This is likely because of Bruce's high strikeout rate.  As you can see in pretty much all of the graphs, Bruce fails to make contact quite a bit on his swings, especially right in the middle of the zone.  When he does make contact, though, he hits the ball hard.  And that's what he was doing the first couple of weeks with the Reds, until he faced his first knuckleballer (Tim Wakefield) and then went into a tailspin.  (I have no proof that the knuckleball affected him, but that's pretty much when Bruce started making much less contact.)

Some thoughts on what I see based on these charts:

  • Bruce likes to swing the bat.  He's no Brandon Phillips, but there are very few pale circles on his chart.  The good news is that he tends to lay off pitches that he can't handle, but the bad news is that he has some serious contact issues.
  • Bruce killed fastballs from right-handers, as you might expect, but struggled against fastballs in the strike zone from left-handers.  In fact, he did much better on fastballs out of the strike zone that he did within the zone.  This table shows his slugging percentage on fastballs:

    Versus In Zone Out Zone
    RHP .598 .571
    LHP .343 1.500

    This is likely a sample size issue as much as anything (he only swung at 43 fastball from lefties outside the zone), but one thing I noticed about all of these charts is that Bruce showed some serious pop on pitches up and off the plate last season.
  • While he has some pop up and out of the zone, he really struggles with the low-and-away pitch.  This is especially evident in the changeups from right-handers.  As you would expect, righties like to hit that lower outside corner with changeups, and I imagine that this was one of the huge adjustments for Bruce from the minors.  Look at the graph for right-handed change ups.  I doubt you see that much consistency in the minors, especially from a quality change up.  Hopefully this is an area that Bruce will naturally improve in with more experience.

    The following chart shows the breakdown of pitches by each zone.  The inner 4 squares represent the quadrants of the strike zone and the 8 outer squares are pitches outside of the zone.  Each square lists the percentage of pitches in that area, the percentage of pitches swung at in that area, the percentage of swings that made contact, and Bruce's slugging percentage on pitches in that area.

    Pit: 5.6%
    Sw: 32.6%
    Con: 45.9%
    SLG: 1.000
    Pit: 3.5%
    Sw: 28.2%
    Con: 48.5%
    SLG: .667
    Pit: 8.3%
    Sw: 45.9%
    Con: 72.7%
    SLG: 1.102
    Pit: 10.6%
    Sw: 84.6%
    Con: 80.6%
    SLG: .714
    Pit: 8.8%
    Sw: 75.3%
    Con: 84.9%
    SLG: .361
    Pit: 3.5%
    Sw: 17.6%
    Con: 81.0%
    SLG: 1.600
    Pit: 10.6%
    Sw: 41.7%
    Con: 73.6%
    SLG: .338
    Pit: 16.8%
    Sw: 69.8%
    Con: 76.7%
    SLG: 1.102
    Pit: 10.2%
    Sw: 63.9%
    Con: 80.6%
    SLG: 1.600
    Pit: 5.7%
    Sw: 17.3%
    Con: 63.6%
    SLG: .800
    Pit: 11.2%
    Sw: 28.4%
    Con: 34.6%
    SLG: .240
    Pit: 5.9%
    Sw: 28.9%
    Con: 26.3%
    .SLG: 000

    The good news is that there is a small margin of error, as Bruce crushes low pitches that are left in the zone. As he continues to develop his zone judgment, this area could turn into a strength if he can learn to lay off the pitches out of the zone.  I'm surprised more pitchers haven't tried to bust him up and in more often.  If you can get the ball in that upper-right quandrant of the strike zone, you can probably get a pretty quick out on Bruce as he tends to swing and tends to make contact, but that contact doesn't appear to be all that strong.
  • More good news is that Bruce doesn't appear to have an excessive amount of trouble with breaking pitches.  So often you see youngsters get overwhelmed by breaking stuff, but Bruce seems to do alright  (.649 SLG, though his contact rate is only 63%).  

Overall, I'd say the biggest concern for Bruce has to be the lack of contact made over the heart of the plate. His power numbers still look very good there, but I'd sure like see a lot less blue in the center of those graphs.

I'm still learning to read these graphs, just as you are.  Let me know if you see anything that sticks out that I haven't mentioned.  I'm also more than happy to break the data down even further, so if you have questions, feel free to ask.