MLB Trade Deadline: Can Jay Bruce Help a Contending Team?
It's no secret that the New York Mets are sellers prior to Monday's trade deadline. They already shipped out power-hitter Lucas Duda to the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa's push for the playoffs, but the Mets have another trade-worthy slugger on their roster in Jay Bruce.
Is he worth trading for, or will Bruce finish out the season in New York?
A Career Year
Bruce was traded to the Mets at the deadline last season from the Cincinnati Reds, and he struggled mightily while in his new uniform. In 187 plate appearances, Bruce slashed just .219/.294/.391 with 5 home runs, a .290 wOBA. and an 81 wRC+ -- not what the Mets were hoping for to say the least.
He found his stroke this season, however, slashing .262/.326/.525 across 420 plate appearances. Bruce's .525 slugging percentage and .851 OPS would both be career-best marks, and his .357 wOBA and 122 wRC+ are both the highest since 2010. Maybe the bright(er) lights in New York took some getting used to, after spending eight-plus seasons in Cincinnati.
When a hitter experiences a significant increase in production, I try to figure out if it can be attributed to something specific. In Bruce's case, much of his numbers are in line with his career averages. He's walking and striking out at roughly the same pace, he's not pulling the ball more or being decidedly more aggressive with his swing percentage, either.
There are two categories where his numbers do stand out this year, however.
The Difference Makers
Bruce is mashing the ball when he makes contact. His hard-hit rate of 43.0 percent ranks 12th this season and is the first time in his career that it's been above 38.2 percent. Conversely, his 11.5 soft-hit rate is 7th-best clip, meaning that when Bruce makes contact, he's usually crushing the ball.
In addition to consistently hitting the ball harder, Bruce has also seen a significant increase in his fly-ball percentage. Entering this season, he owned a career fly-ball percentage of 41.9. In 2017, Bruce's fly ball percentage has jumped to 48.8 percent. When you combine consistently hitting the ball hard and consistently hitting the ball in the air, you get this:
Jay Bruce belts a two-run home run to right field, cutting the Mets' deficit to 7-5 in the top of the 7th inning!!! #LGM pic.twitter.com/P88WOmZSKf
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 28, 2017
That was Bruce's 26th home run on the year, and he hit another one on Saturday night, moving him just 7 off of his career high. Sure, power is easier to find these days than in year's past, but the kind of pop Bruce is displaying can help out a contender.
Given the Royals' interest in a corner bat that @jcrasnick reports, Jay Bruce would be a great fit.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 28, 2017
After winning of 16 their last 24 games, the Royals find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race. They are in the bottom half of the league in both home runs and slugging percentage, so they could use some additional pop in their lineup. We currently give them a 41.1% chance of making the playoffs, so despite holding the second Wild Card spot, they are far from a lock for the postseason -- all the more reason to do what they can to get in.
The Royals, or another team in need of a power bat for the playoff push, should take the gamble on Bruce. He's mashing the ball -- his hard-hit percentage is higher than the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, and Nolan Arenado just to name a few -- and shouldn't cost much as a likely rental player, since he's due to become a free agent at the end of the season.
There are risks involved, we already know Bruce struggled after changing teams at the deadline in 2016, but a locked-in power hitter who shouldn't command more than a lower-tier prospect in return is worth rolling the dice on in hopes that the home runs continue.