We continue Red Reporter's player by player look at the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. We'll profile every player who got time for the Reds this year, and will imagine their tenure with the Reds going forward.
By The Numbers
649 PA, .226/.294/.434, 26 HR, 87 RBI, 97 OPS+
Jay Bruce has played for 8 seasons, and he's got 208 career dingers. Divide 208 by 8, and you get 26, which is exactly the number of dingers Jay cracked in the 2015 season. Predictability!
In Jay's 8 seasons, he's productively driven in 638 runs, fairly solid production from a middle of the order hitter. Divide 638 by 8, and you get 79.75, which means the 87 ribbies he collected in 2015 were more than we've come to see from Jay on a year in, year out basis.
His 35 doubles sit tied for the second most he's ever hit in one season, and his 145 strikeouts were the fewest he's logged in any of the last five seasons. The 157 games he played tied his 2011 mark for the most of his career, and the 97 OPS+ he produced tied him with this guy - who was generally considered to have had a good, if not great year in 2015.
How'd He Do?
Jay Bruce's career has been ______.
Seriously, you find a word that fits.
He's bopped over 200 career homers while not yet having turned 29 years of age, claimed a pair of Silver Sluggers to go with his two All Star Game appearances, finished twice in the Top 10 of the National League MVP voting, and has still managed to be "embarrassed" by each of his last two seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. His streakiness has become the stuff of legend, and that coupled with the lofty expectations he carried as the top overall prospect in baseball back in 2008 have made his overall performance largely the scapegoat for the team's overall struggles.
Survey Reds fans in Southern Ohio and across the globe about Jay's performance in 2015, and one of the first things you'll hear is he strikes out too much! Which, of course, is filthy hogwash. Jay's 22.3% K-rate in 2015 ranked 111th out of the 352 MLB players who had at least 200 PA, and he struck out less often than Mike Trout, Eugenio Suarez, guy-you-think-never-strikes-out Matt Carpenter, A-Rod, Nelson Cruz's 44 dinger self, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, new-top-prospect-in-baseball Kris Bryant, $300 million man Giancarlo Stanton, hometown dinger-crusher Kyle Schwarber, and literally 100 other guys who play baseball for money. No, Jay Bruce does not strike out too much.
But if strikeouts can't be the onus of people's beef with Jay, what is? He had the same exact number of dingers (26) as Kris Bryant - whose dreaminess is about to win the NL Rookie of the Year in one of the deepest classes ever - and drove in more runs (87) than Ryan Braun, Michael Brantley, A-Rod, Adrian Beltre, Adam Jones, and Robinson Cano. So, no, dingers and ribbies can't be what has folks mad at Jay Bruce. And really, his sub .300 OBP and paltry .226 average aren't what has Bruce on the move in most fans' rosterbatory dreams.
It's not his contract, which is as far from an albatross as can be. It's not the power, the run production, or the end of season batting average, either.
It's that Jay Bruce is the kind of player who can have a stellar .260/.342/.492 batting line as late as August 1st and still finish a season having hit just .226 with a sub .300 OBP.
Electric when he's hot, as good as unplugged when he's not, Jay Bruce has consistently proven to be as inconsistent as they come in baseball, and it's that expansive variability that has fans increasingly less willing to want to count on him. It was hard to have any expectations of Jay after his disastrous 2014 season and knee injury, and just when we thought the first half of 2015 had put those doldrums out of mind, he closed with a three month stretch worse than any he'd ever had in his career.
Prior to 2015, Jay Bruce hadn't been what you'd hoped for given how promising the then 21 year old's explosion onto the scene with plate patience, opposite field approach, and power for days was back in 2008. And while the 2015 data set did nothing to improve those hopes, it did provide ample scattered data to confound all of us in terms of placing expectations upon him, and it's that difficulty quantifying him that makes him so, so frustrating.
Jay's 2015 season was bad. It was bad, it was good, but it was really, really bad.
Jay could hit 40 homers next year and walk more than 12% of the time and I wouldn't be surprised. Hell, on that August 1st day when Jay's slash line was so rosy, he actually was walking that often (which at the time was the best mark of his career).
Jay may also hit .226 again and struggle to get a multi-year contract after 2016. At this point, neither would surprise me the slightest bit.
He's far from the only talented young slugger who's seen extreme bouts of streaky play, though. Yoenis Cespedes backed his breakout 2012 season by hitting just .251/.298/.446 in 287 games during 2013-2014, but managed to crank that back up to .291/.328/.542 in 2015, his age 29 season. Chris Davis led the world with 53 dingers in 2013 and 47 in 2015 - his 1.004 and .923 OPS's in each year sparkling - but he also sandwiched that around a dismal 2014 where he hit a putrid .196 and watched his OPS dip to just .704.
Jay's like both of them in that regard, and damned if I know what he'll do over the course of the upcoming season. What I do know is that I've long thought he's got what it takes to put a pair of half-seasons together that are as good as the last half of 2015 was bad, and I hope he gets to do that all while still wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. As we learned when he was nearly dealt to the New York Mets at the July 31st deadline, though, Jay may not be long for the Cincinnati Reds, and he's running perilously out of chances to show that he can put a full season of sustained production together while manning RF in the Queen City. Speaking of which...
Chance of making the 2016 Reds roster: 60% (Walt's not one who has typically sold way low on players, and I have a hard time believing he'll do so with Jay when there's so little on the line in 2016.)
Chance of STAYING on the 2016 Reds roster: 25% (If - or, more precisely, when - Jay gets hot, I'd be shocked to find him still around after next July's trade deadline. It's a bummer to type that, but I just don't see it happening.)