Can Jay Bruce Help the Indians Win the American League Central?
The Cleveland Indians are the defending American League champions and currently hold a four game lead over the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central. If you'd have told Indians fans they'd be in this position at the start of the season, they'd have probably been very happy.
But it hasn't been an easy 2017. A slow first half and a recent rash of injuries has forced Cleveland to shore things up a bit, which is why they have completed a deal with the New York Mets to bring slugging outfielder Jay Bruce on board. Bruce, 30, is having the best power season of his career, batting .256/.321/.520 with 29 homers, 75 RBIs, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .353 and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 120.
Among qualified outfielders, his wOBA ranks 19th and his wRC+ is 18th out of 58 players in MLB. His .520 slugging percentage and isolated power (ISO) of .264 are both career highs, and he's been worth 2.0 fWAR this season. He's a poor defender, so all of that WAR is coming from the offensive side.
Simply put, Bruce has been one of the more underrated sluggers in baseball this season.
At 60-51 and just nine games over .500, it's clear the Indians needed some help. The Royals' recent 2-8 skid has given them some breathing room in the AL Central, but Cleveland recently lost relief ace Andrew Miller to the 10-day disabled list as well as outfielder Michael Brantley. (Reports are Brantley's injury isn't serious, which is great news given he's batting .299/.358/.445 with 9 home runs and 52 RBIs this season.) The Indians have also been without Lonnie Chisenhall since the All-Star break, who was leading the team in RBIs (51) when he went down, while hitting .305 (57-for-187) with 13 doubles, 12 homers and a .578 slugging percentage.
Adding Bruce gives the team some much needed heft in the middle of the lineup until Brantley and Chisenhall return, and all they had to give up was a minor league relief pitcher, Ryder Ryan, who has a good fastball, but posted a 4.79 ERA in 41.1 innings in Single-A this season.
Bruce, a left-handed hitter, is not an automatic out against southpaws. He is hitting .237/.281/.482 with 8 of his 29 bombs coming against left-handed pitching. Those numbers aren't fantastic, but he's also not an automatic removal against left-handed pitching, either. He's among a number of MLB hitters to reduce his ground ball rate this season, from his career 37.8% to 32.1%, while increasing his fly ball rate to 48.5%, as compared to his 42.4% career mark.
For the New York Mets, this deal was about clearing the decks. The removal of Bruce allows the team to play emerging star Michael Conforto and veteran Yoenis Cespedes in the corners, while plugging Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo in center, with Curtis Granderson coming off the bench. It also gives New York a bit of salary relief, with Cleveland picking up all of Bruce's contract.
Trading for Bruce cost the Indians virtually nothing, and in return, they get a middle of the order bat to stem the tide until two of their other big sluggers return from injury. It was a no-brainer move, and one that can only help Cleveland hold off Kansas City for the division title.