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Cincinnati Reds need Jay Bruce to bounce back

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Let's spend some time getting to know Jay Bruce.

Jay Bruce: International Superstar
Jay Bruce: International Superstar
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Biographical:
Jay Allen Bruce
DOB: April 3, 1987
Hometown: Beaumont, Texas
High School: West Brook High School (TX) [Third Team All-American]

Tale of the Tape:
Position: Rightfield
Bats: Left        Throws: Left
Height: 6'3"   Weight: 215 lbs.

Nicknames:
The Beaumont Bomber, Jay Hova, Affable Jay, Bruce Almighty, The Boss

Notes from the Past:
Jay Bruce was selected in the 1st round (pick 12) of the 2005 amateur draft by our Cincinnati Reds. At age 18, Bruce began his professional career in the Gulf Coast League for the Baby Reds, playing in 37 games and batting .270/.331/.500 with 5 home runs. Later in 2005, Bruce moved on to the Pioneer League, donning the double upside-down horseshoe of the Billings Mustangs. Playing in 17 games, Bruce slashed .257/.358/.457 with 4 home runs, finishing up 2005 with a total of 9 home runs and an OPS of .825 over two levels.

2006 saw Jay marinate a bit (and get a taste of sweet Ohio life) by playing the entire season in green for the Dayton Dragons. At 19 years old, Mr. Bruce showed he was a man, tearing up low A for a  .291/.355/.516 line. The best was yet to come, however, as 2007 was the true breakout. Jay rose through the ranks quickly. Starting in A+ Sarasota, HOVA said, "Nah," to Florida, busted out a .965 OPS through 67 games and booked his ticket to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deciding that Moon Pies weren't really his thing either, Jay only spent 16 games there, batting more like a Chattahoochee Hoochie Coochie than a Chattanooga Lookout (hot, that is). After a 1.057 OPS in AA, Jay took his talents to the Commonwealth, where he used his Louisville Bat as a deadly weapon toward a .305/.358/.567 slash, 11 home runs in 50 games. All of that bopping and blasting earned the Reds-hot prospect the honor of Minor League Player of the Year.

Jay would pick up exactly where 2007 left off in 2008, but it would be another short stint at a minor league level. This time, though, Jay would get the call to "The Show."

The Majors
Jay Bruce made his Major League debut on May 27, 2008, playing CF and batting second. And holy crap if he wasn't just the greatest. In his first 2 games, he became the first player since 1977 to reach base in his first six plate appearances. On May 31st, Bruce hit his first home run... in walk off style against the Braves. Around that time, everyone you knew that lived in the greater Cincinnati area was, like, the biggest Jay Bruce fan ever, you know?

The first several weeks of The Boss were great... too great, as it seemed and turned out. Jay would follow that up with a long adjustment period (while also foreshadowing the rest of his career). After OPSing less than .700 in July and August, Jay bounced back in September, flashing his hot/coldness, but also showing that when he was dialed in, he could be one of the best in the league.

2009 proved to be a serious learning curve for the youngster. While still channeling the power, Bruce struggled to do much else through July. In July, Bruce broke his wrist on a play in the field and wouldn't see another at bat until September. He managed to ding 22 dingers in an abbreviated year, but his average and OBP suffered majorly and everyone was more than content to turn the page on 2009.

In 2010, however, Jay put the injury and the sophomore slump way behind him. In probably what is his best year to date as a major leaguer, Bruce posted a career high .281 batting average and 124 OPS+, and while he only hit 25 home runs, he hit this walk off, division clinching home run against the Astros, giving the Reds their first division title in 15 years. I'm pretty sure that one alone is worth 25 extra home runs. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the 2010 playoffs were never played...

May Bruce was born in 2011, when Jay slashed .342/.402/.739 with 12 home runs in 28 games, his white hot heat melting everything in his path. Jay managed his first All-Star appearance and while the rest of his season was good-not-great, the Reds failed to make any noise, unloaded Jonny Gomes down the stretch, and ended the year in forgettable fashion. In 2012, Jay helped anchor the Reds in their 97 win season. The most decorated season of his career, Jay earned his second All-Star selection while also receiving a Silver Slugger and finishing in the top 10 in NL MVP voting. He set a career high in home runs (34) and slugging percentage (.514) during the teams magical regular season, though again he was robbed by a playoff that I'm pretty sure never happened.

2013 brought along big expectations for not only Bruce, but the Cincinnati Reds. With the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason giving the Reds potency at the top of the lineup and having Joey Votto back and presumably healthy from his 2012 knee injury, Bruce was to be the power-straw that knocked the drink out of the park. Indeed, he obliterated his career number in RBIs (109), and fell short of his 2012 mark in HRs at 30. Unfortunately, 2013 was a bad cocktail for the Reds, and while Bruce earned a second consecutive Silver Slugger and another top 10 nod in the MVP race, the Reds catastrophically melted down the stretched and was bounced by Pittsburgh in the one-game-playoff.

The Reds lost Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason, but brought up Billy Hamilton in to be their everyday CF for 2014 and things were exciting for the 2014 Reds. Unfortunately, the injury bug didn't just bite, but infested the Reds hard, and Jay Bruce wasn't immune. After tearing his meniscus in May, Bruce had surgery and was expected to miss a month. He returned in 15 days. He (begrudgingly) admitted that he played the rest of the year hurt, and turned in the worst full season of his career.

Contract
Jay Bruce signed a 6 year/$51,000,000 contract with the Reds before 2011, with a team option for a 7th.

Stats

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2008 21 CIN NL 108 452 413 63 105 17 1 21 52 4 6 33 110 .254 .314 .453 .767 97 187 8 4 0 2 1 987 RoY-5
2009 22 CIN NL 101 387 345 47 77 15 2 22 58 3 3 38 75 .223 .303 .470 .773 101 162 5 2 1 1 2 9
2010 23 CIN NL 148 573 509 80 143 23 5 25 70 5 4 58 136 .281 .353 .493 .846 124 251 12 1 0 5 5 *9
2011 24 CIN NL 157 664 585 84 150 27 2 32 97 8 7 71 158 .256 .341 .474 .814 118 277 8 5 1 2 14 *9 AS
2012 25 CIN NL 155 633 560 89 141 35 5 34 99 9 3 62 155 .252 .327 .514 .841 121 288 5 4 0 7 11 *9 AS,MVP-10,SS
2013 26 CIN NL 160 697 626 89 164 43 1 30 109 7 3 63 185 .262 .329 .478 .807 120 299 9 2 0 5 13 *9 MVP-10,SS
2014 27 CIN NL 137 545 493 71 107 21 1 18 66 12 3 44 149 .217 .281 .373 .654 84 184 8 2 1 5 5 *9/3
7 Yrs 966 3951 3531 523 887 181 17 182 551 48 29 369 968 .251 .323 .467 .790 111 1648 55 20 3 27 51
162 Game Avg. 162 663 592 88 149 30 3 31 92 8 5 62 162 .251 .323 .467 .790 111 276 9 3 1 5 9

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/23/2015.

Scouting Report

Via

The Baseball Cube

Speed: 60
Contact: 20
Patience: 56
Batting: 57
Power: 92

2015 Projections

G PA HR AVG OBP SLG SB
Steamer 124 529 22 .238 .310 .434 7
ZiPS --- 615 28 .255 .326 .470 10
Fans 155 656 28 .258 .329 .471 7
CAIRO 136 608 27 .238 .312 .440

9

PITCHf/x Hitter Profile

Defensive
Fans Scouting Report ratings (via Fangraphs) (2014 rating/career rating):

Instincts: 62/66
First Step: 58/62
Speed: 52/58
Hands: 65/63
Release: 73/79
Arm Strength: 89/89
Arm Accuracy: 77/84

Overall: 68/71

FSR (Fans Scouting Report runs above average): 5/36

UZR/150 in 2014: -7

Looking at 2015
So, 2014 was pretty bad. Jay himself called it "the most embarrassing year in my life." As with seemingly everyone that plays for the Cincinnati Reds, we cannot ignore the health issues that plagued the team. On May 5th of last season, the world learned that Jay Bruce would be making a trip to the disabled list in order to have surgery on the meniscus in his left knee. The southpaw slugger had started the season slow and appeared to be laboring. He was initially expected to miss nearly a month.

Jay was activated off the DL in 15 days, and played in May 23rd's contest against the St. Louis Cardinals. Bruce missed only 14 team games after having surgery on his knee, and many (rightfully) speculated if he had come back too soon. Rest of season, Bruce struggled to contribute much of anything. In the end, all Jay got for the trouble of toughing out a fairly significant injury was the worst season of his career. He got on base less than 30 percent of the time, and posted career lows across the board. It was the first time his OPS+ dipped under 100 since his rookie year.

Now that the 2014 season is in the rearview, it will be imperative for Jay to put the injury behind him as well. Most Reds fans are weary of knee injuries as they've watched what's happened with Joey Votto since 2012, but there's been no indication that this is the same kind of thing. If Jay is 100%, he can work to get back to the approach that had paid off so generously for him throughout his career.

That last fact is also key: he needs to get back to doing the thing that he does well. While going through the toughest stretch of his career, Bruce admitted that he was pressing at times. This pressing caused Bruce to experiment with his approach, and that experimentation lead to a five-strikeout game against the Cubs in late August.

It's not as if we're accustomed to Jay walking a ton or limiting strike outs, but both measurements were worse than his career averages. In 2014, Bruce walked only 8.1% of the time. In fact, Jay's BB% has decreased every season since 2011 (which he posted a career high 10.7 BB%). To go along with this worrying trend, Jay also struck out at a career high rate of 27.3%, while seeing his K% increase year over year since 2009. Only eight batters who qualified for the batting title posted a higher K% than Jay Bruce, and while that's not inherently a bad thing, there's also some bad company being kept there (BJ Upton, Chris Davis, etc.) Jay has to be himself, but this is a trend that he needs to work to fix as he heads into 2015.

When Jay did make contact in 2014, not much happened. He posted a career low .156 ISO and saw his BABIP settle in at the low value of .269, partly because he saw his groundball percentage skyrocket to 45.2%, nearly 10% more than 2013. Hopefully a lot of this can be attributed to the aforementioned knee injury and subsequent pressing. On top of that, for the first time in his career Bruce stopped crushing fastballs, and actually put up a negative value against the pitch.

Each season, a lot of predictions and previews call for that final breakout season by Bruce. One where he realizes all of the potential that he shows during one of those patented Jay Bruce hot streaks and rides one for a majority of the season, mitigating the long swoons. It could still happen, but the bar has been set a little lower this year. Many fans just want to make sure that Jay Bruce can return to form and be completely healthy. All the reports have been good, but all the reports at this time of the year are always good. We won't know until he runs out onto the field in Arizona, and makes it to April in Cincinnati. Hell, we might not know for sure until we see it hold up through the grind of the summer. But, more than anything else, Bruce has to prove that 2014 is behind him.

Jay Bruce has to get back to being Jay Bruce in 2015.

Author's Note: I'd be remiss if I didn't shout out to fellow blog writer ken, and a lot of information included in this Red Report (and also some tidbits that I didn't include) can also be found as a part of the 2013 season preview, found here. Nice preview, ken!