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The Bruce contract extension: another look

Now that we've worked up the Arroyo extension, let's turn our attention to Jay Bruce's new contract.


2008 21 452 7% 27% 0.254 0.314 0.453 0.199 0.296 0.328 -2
2009 22 387 10% 22% 0.223 0.303 0.470 0.247 0.221 0.329 -1
2010 23 573 10% 27% 0.281 0.353 0.493 0.212 0.334 0.363 17
ZiPS 24 598 10% 23% 0.269 0.340 0.495 0.226 0.313 0.358 13
Oliver 24 531 9% 23% 0.266 0.334 0.492 0.226 --- 0.354 10

Bruce had two phenomenal months to close out the season last year, and it's the reason his 2010 line looks so much better than prior years'.  Remember when people were talking about demoting him in July? :)  By end of year, he posted the best rate stats of his career.  For those last two months, he was the Jay Bruce we'd all dreamed of.

There's a fair bit of disagreement between the two projections. I'm kind of skeptical about the ZiPS projection--it looks massively low considering what he did last year, and is below what you'd get with a simple average (which seems inexplicable to me given his age). But I'm very biased when it comes to Bruce, and I want this to be a fairly conservative projection, so I'm going to go with the average of the two projections: +6 runs in 74% playing time, or +8 per full season (we'll deal with the playing time adjustment later).

Right, so, when we use the actual 2011 projection, and not his 2010 projection as I did initially (see scratch-out above), we see that ZiPS is actually quite bullish on Bruce--moreso even than Oliver.  Averaging across the two, they project that Bruce will produce 11 runs above average in 81% playing time, which extrapolates to 14 RAA over a full season (we'll deal with the playing time adjustments later).


Here are a few estimates of Bruce's fielding skill:

Fan Scouting Report: 2nd best RF in baseball last year, estimated +9 runs above average (or +11 per season)

Avg of Career UZR/DRS: +15 runs above average per season

nFRAA by Colin Wyers at BPro: 54 RAA +/- 12 conservatively, +42 RAA?  Umm, that's 51 RAA per season.

To me it's clear that Bruce is a complete badass in right field.  But how much of a badass is a reasonable projection?  I'm inclined to go with +15 runs above average per season looking forward.  Given Colin's number, that could be radically conservative.

Other factors

Position: we typically use a -7.5 RAA adjustment for playing a corner outfield slot, as the average RF is a below-average fielder overall.

Replacement: In the National League, we generally use +20 runs per season as the difference between average and replacement.

Playing time: Bruce has a history with injuries at this point, but his nearly full season last year helps his projection.  The projections have him at an estimated 81% playing time based on past years and typical averages.


So +14 offense + 15 fielding - 7.5 position + 20 replacement = 43.5 RAA * 81% playing time = 33 RAR, or a projected ~3.5 WAR player. 

Obviously, there are large error bars on everything here, but I've tried to be pretty conservative to combat my fanboyism.  For example, if you assume +20 RAA fielding, which is not beyond reason, you can push him to being a true talent 4 WAR player. FanGraphs says he posted 5 WAR last year, so we're not into unreasonable territory there.

The Contract

The Reds are paying Bruce $51M/6 yrs, plus there's an option for a 7th year at $13 M.  He was a super-2 this offseason, and so he gets four arbitration years.  Arb players make well over the minimum, but typically some fraction of their free agent value; I'm going to use 20%/40%/60%/80% of arb, which is a standard estimate that usually works pretty well.

Here's a schedule that matches that contract:

Year Age $/WAR ArbDscnt WAR Payout
2011 24 $5.0 20% 3 $3.0
2012 25 $5.4 40% 2.7 $5.8
2013 26 $5.8 60% 2.4 $8.4
2014 27 $6.3 80% 2.1 $10.6
2015 28 $6.8 100% 1.8 $12.2
2016 29 $7.3 100% 1.5 $11.0


Obvious question: why assume aging when Bruce is just 24?  Mostly it's projecting injury risk, not skill decline.  If he gets hurt significantly at some point during the contract and misses an entire year (for example), he loses a lot of his value.  If this looks too conservative for you, that's fine--it means his contract looks even better.

...Because look at that first year.  3 WAR?  We projected him as a 3.5 WAR player!  Here's a schedule that matches a 3.5 WAR projection for 2011:

Year Age $/WAR ArbDscnt WAR Payout
2011 24 $5.0 20% 3.5 $3.5
2012 25 $5.4 40% 3.2 $6.9
2013 26 $5.8 60% 2.9 $10.1
2014 27 $6.3 80% 2.6 $13.1
2015 28 $6.8 100% 2.3 $15.6
2016 29 $7.3 100% 2 $14.7


So based on the projection above--which I think is reasonably sound and not overly optimistic--we can reasonably project that a fair market value contract for Bruce at this point would be ~$64M/6 yrs.  The Reds essentially got a $13M discount, based on a reasonable, average projection of what Bruce will do (and be worth) moving forward if they paid him year to year.

Why would Bruce do this?  Probably because this contract makes him set for life.  The Reds moved early enough that they are able to deliver what is still a ridiculous payday (to normal humans) while he was still making "slave" wages.  If he gets hurt and never plays another game, he still gets the $50 million.  And while, on average, a player with his skills and past performance might be expected to net more than this going year by year, Bruce only has one shot at it--and by giving up 20% of his projected income, he gets a the security of knowing that he's guaranteed to earn $50 million over the next six years.  I'd take that, and so would most of you.

On the Reds' side, there is that risk that he gets hurt. And there's risk that he could underperform and not be worth this contract.  But this deal not only gives them cost certainty--it arguably gives them the potential to reap significant savings.  On average, it should net them around $13 million in savings.  But if Bruce does better than we're projecting--maybe puts up another two or three 5 WAR seasons--the Reds stand to have a spectacular asset on their hands.  I'm thrilled to see it happen. Kudos to the Reds for getting it done.

Note: I unfortunately used the wrong ZiPS projection in the initial version of this post.  The revised, correct numbers result in (surprise!) a difference in the analysis that stems from it.  My apologies for the error.  Apparently, as my wife will attest, I can't do anything right... /jinaz