clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Did Jay Bruce end up changing his approach at the plate?

New, 32 comments

In April Bruce looked like a different hitter. Did those changes stick?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks in to the season Jay Bruce looked like a different hitter. This led me to ask, "Has Jay Bruce changed his approach at the plate?" On April 11 the answer was a cautious "maybe." Bruce was pulling far fewer balls than normal (21.4% as compared to his career mark of 45.2%). Was this a concerted effort on his part to use more of the field, or was it simply the result of small sample size?

With several months of data now available it's worth returning to the question. Did Jay Bruce change his approach at the plate?

The short answer to that question appears to be no (but you really should keep reading). Bruce's Pull% is back up to 44.3%. That number is within 1% of his career average. However, the 2016 version of Bruce does look a little different. As of today, he's only going the opposite way 17.2% of the time. That's a career low mark for Bruce. All of those balls that aren't going to the opposite field are now going up the middle. This is obvious from his career high 38.5 Cent%. It's not the change that Bruce appeared to be making in April, but it is a small one worth noting.

Bruce's approach does not appear to have changed much, but the results that he's seeing at the plate are very different from the past two seasons. Currently he's tallied a 131 wRC+ (which would be the high mark of his career). He's also hitting .274/.327/.568 to go along with 15 HR and 51 RBI. If a changed approach hasn't led to Bruce's recrent run of success, what has propelled him to his best offensive season in years?

One of the first things to note is that Bruce has experienced a spike in BABIP. This season his BABIP has jumped to .295 as opposed to .269 in 2014 and .251 in 2015. Some of Bruce's resurgence could be chalked up to better luck on batted balls this season.

There's also been a small change in terms of Bruce's plate discipline. He's swinging at a career low 27.9% of pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%). However, that mark hasn't led to increased walks. He's actually walking at a career low 6.8%. It's possible that improved discipline is another small piece to the Jay Bruce bounce back puzzle.

One of the biggest differences for Bruce between 2014-2015 and this season has been his production against fastballs and sliders. It's obvious that he's seeing much different results against these offerings.

Here is how Bruce has handled fastballs over these two periods of time:

Year

Count

AVG

SLG

ISO

BABIP

2014-2015

1323

.219

.484

.266

.207

2016

339

.320

.640

.320

.322

The next chart looks at Bruce's production against sliders.

Year

Count

AVG

SLG

ISO

BABIP

2014-2015

600

.176

.297

.122

.295

2016

158

.310

.621

.310

.412

Jay Bruce has experienced an impressive turnaround against two of the pitches that he's most likely to see at the plate. There aren't a lot of reasons for this that will jump out at you if you look at his plate discipline, spray chart, or batted ball profile. As mentioned above, it's possible Bruce is just experiencing better luck this season.

However, it's worth raising another issue. Maybe we haven't been watching a new Jay Bruce at the plate. It's possible we're simply seeing a healthy Jay Bruce at the plate. Most of you remember that in early 2014 he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. Impressively, and maybe somewhat foolishly, Bruce only sat out for two weeks post-surgery. He spent a good portion of 2014 trying to get comfortable while playing in MLB games, and it led to the worst offensive season of his career.

Yes, Bruce had the offseason prior to 2015 to rehab, but it's fair to wonder how long the affects of the injury and surgery lingered. I'm not a doctor or a hitting instructor so take this next paragraph with the biggest grain of salt you can find. Around the time of the surgery Walk Jocketty made this comment about Bruce's condition, "I think it's something he's had for a while. It inflamed on him...I'm sure he did it playing, but we don't know when."

If Bruce's knee had been bothering him for some time then it's likely he made small changes or tweaks to his swing without realizing it to relieve some of the pain. Whenever the injury did occur Bruce definitely would have struggled to drive off of his back leg. ESPN's injury guru, Stephania Bell, writes about the impact of a torn meniscus:

"When a meniscus develops even a minor tear it can behave like a hangnail, "catching" in the joint as the knee tries to go through various motions. This catching can cause the knee to lock up, preventing normal range of motion, and it can be painful, making it virtually impossible to pivot (when swinging a bat at the plate), run or slide, all of which, incidentally, can be the same things that can lead to a tear in the first place."

It's obvious why this would have made it difficult for Bruce to swing the bat pre-surgery. It's also likely that it took Jay some time to really trust his knee again. One of the best hitters in Cincinnati's lineup went through an almost unexplainable two year slump, but it makes a lot more sense when thinking about the physical and psychological toll that trying to swing a bat with this injury could have taken.

Jay Bruce is having some better luck at the plate this season. He's also being a little more patient. However, the biggest change for Bruce is likely that he's healthy and he's finally fully confident that he's healthy. This season has gone a long way toward reestablishing Bruce's trade value. Enjoy watching him in a Reds uniform while you can, and be encouraged that if the Reds do flip him they'll likely get something much closer to full value in return.