It's Time to Buy Jay Bruce
If I told you a player is hitting .211 and slugging an anemic .363, you would not assume that he's regarded as one of the top 50 fantasy baseball hitters. For a player whose sole value in fantasy comes from his slugging ability, Jay Bruce hasn't lived up to expectations thus far, and will now miss 3-4 weeks while recovering from knee surgery.
If your league has enough bench or DL slots, it may be wise to call/email/Facebook message/Instagram the Bruce owner in your league and appraise his trade value. Because if you can get Bruce at a discount and can stand a sub-.250 batting average the rest of the way, he may be a worthy trade target.
I'll get it out of the way now: Bruce will not hit for average. He strikes out too much and doesn't make the contact necessary to sustain a sky-high BABIP. To make matters worse, he is extremely susceptible to defensive shifts as a strong pull hitter, and has hit 46.5% of batted balls on the ground, a career-high pace. In his career, Bruce has hit only .235 on grounders, as opposed to .269 on flyballs. Simply put, we want him to hit the ball in the air.
At this point, I don't know the cause of the increased groundball numbers, whether it results from pitch location, a nagging injury, or something else. But at a time when teams are shifting at a record pace, Bruce will not be able to improve his batting average unless he makes adjustments. For leagues that value walks or count OBP instead of average, Bruce is less of a burden, since he has improved his walk rate by 8.6% from 2013 to 2014 thanks to better pitch selection.
Since most of the newfound groundballs have come at the expense of flyballs, this inherently would entail fewer home runs, unless he benefits from an uncharacteristic HR/FB rate, and his career 17.1% is already among the highest in baseball. However, even at his current 32.9% flyball rate and assuming he could have 400 plate appearances from June until the end of the season, we can reasonably expect Bruce to hit 17-22 homers, depending on random chance and HR/FB. If he returns and is his usual self, he should post his seventh consecutive 20-homer season.
With the departure of Shin-Soo Choo, it's not likely that Bruce will post huge RBI numbers, given he bats fourth in a Reds lineup where Joey Votto is the only hitter before Bruce that has a .300-plus OBP. It makes perfect sense that when new Reds manager Bryan Price undid Dusty Baker’s mistake of batting Zack Cozart second, he nullified the benefits by placing Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips atop the order. However, the batters behind Bruce have had an impressive start, leading me to believe Bruce has a crack at placing among the league leaders in runs in the second half if the Reds continue to hit.
Although we may never see a decent batting average from Jay Bruce again, we have reason to be confident that he can still be a valuable fantasy contributor down the stretch. Plus, you want him on your team when he goes on his patented hot streaks.