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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Misery of Jay Bruce

I hadn't looked at FanGraphs' Cincinnati Reds team page lately.  Too painful.  But I popped over there tonight to have a look.  After momentary smiles at what Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have managed this year, and a nod of "yeah, pretty solid" at Billy Hamilton, I found myself scanning through the rest of the numbers with predictable dismay.  I knew it would be bad, and hence my need to stay away until now.  But it is a story of despair and agony.  Cozart's .259 wOBA.  Phillips' injury-shortened season with rate states still down from last year's disappointment.  Votto's 272 PA's.

As I scanned, though, I realized that I was missing Jay Bruce.  I looked again, and couldn't find him.  Finally, I realized that he was on page 2.  Jay Bruce.  -11.7 offensive runs vs. average.  -16 runs in the field by UZR.  -1.3 WAR.  

To call it the worst season of Bruce's career is a massive understatement.  Bruce has always been at least "solid."  This year, he hasn't just been average or disappointing.  He's been disastrous.  With the exception of his base-stealing totals (I haven't looked, but I'm guessing that was from earlier this year?), everything in his line has shown decline.  Walk rates are down.  Strikeout rates are up.  OBP is down.  ISO is down.  BABIP is down.  HR/FB is down.  It goes further:

Bruce's ground ball rate is WAY up.  His fly ball rate is down.  His line drive rate is down.  Bruce has become a groundball machine, which prevents his power from helping him do anything productive...and hence the low ISO.

Earlier this season, he was talking about trying to improve his approach, becoming more selective and looking for his pitch to hit.  His plate discipline profile doesn't match that anymore:

This year, Bruce has swing at more pitches outside the zone, and fewer pitches in the zone, thanany year of his career.  His overall swing rate is down, but that's mostly because pitchers aren't throwing the ball in the zone as often as they did in 2013--if he'll swing out of the zone, they don't have to challenge him.  He's making contact at a decent rate, but it's clearly not hard contact; he's hitting the ball into the ground.

Pitchers aren't throwing that much differently to him.  

A few more fastballs (by pitchf/x, that increase is mostly two-seamer fastballs).  A few more change-ups.  Fewer sliders.  It looks to me like pitchers just aren't as concerned about him this year.  One of the classic ways to get Bruce out was to bury a slider down and in on him, but it's as if pitchers no longer have to rely on that pitch to get through the at-bat.

Earlier this season, I wrote about how Bruce was going to the opposite field more often in 2013.  This year, well:

It's pretty tough for me to say without some summary statistics, but it looks like more of a pull-oriented distribution this year.  For one thing, while he had a nice number of home runs scattered between center field and left field in 2013, every single one of his home runs this year was to his pull side.  Similarly, his ground ball outs (purple) to the infield are all clustered to the pull side.  In the outfield, I'm not sure that I see a specific pattern, and looking only at ground balls, line drives, or fly balls didn't really help (not shown here).  

::sigh::  There's no insight here from me (as usual).  It's been a miserable season, and I certainly don't see anything here that I can identify as something that Bruce needs to do to get better.  He just needs to get better at everything.  My hope is that a big part of the problem has been his leg injury, as Bryan Price has alluded to several times this month.  With an offseason to heal, hopefully Bruce can be in line for comeback player of the year honors in 2015.  If he doesn't I don't see a way to expect much improvement from the Reds' offense...even if they are able to bring in some help.  

How pessimistic should we be?  Well, Bruce's ZIPS projection entering the season was for him to hit .254/.329/.485 with a .344 wOBA.  His updated projection?  .240/.312/.444 with a .328 wOBA.  According to the algorithm, there's still reason to expect him to be a solid hitter.  That's encouraging, despite how bad he's been this year.  But that's a far less intimidating line than he projected to be before his struggles this year.

...I'm not even going to talk about his fielding.  I'm just hoping that's short term injury + fielding stat volatility.  The key word there is hoping.