Is Jay Bruce Still a Legitimate Power Threat?

The Cincinnati Reds' outfielder has had a poor last two seasons. Is the power still there?

At some point, it certainly appears as if Jay Bruce is going to be traded.

The Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays appeared to agree to a three-way swap on Monday that would have sent Bruce from the Reds to the Jays, Michael Saunders from the Jays to the Angels, and a collection of prospects from both teams back to the Reds. But, overnight, the deal appeared to fall through after poor medicals for one of the players involved.

But make no mistake, trading Bruce is the next step in the Reds' rebuild, and doing so would free themselves of his $12.5 million salary for 2016 as well as a $1 million buyout for 2017. 

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they'd be selling low right now.

2008-2013 568 27 27 81 .257 .330 .482 .812
2014-2015 597 28 22 76 .222 .288 .406 .695

The table above show his stats in two different stretches of his career. First are his average seasons from 2008-2013. In his first six years, Bruce hit at least 30 homers three times, and finished in the top-10 of NL MVP voting twice. But as you can see in the stats above, his average over the last two years took a big drop downward.

Last year he hit .226/.294/.434 for a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 91 and an fWAR of 0.1. Still, that's an improvement over his wRC+ of 78 and fWAR of -0.9 the year before. 

So what gives? What has caused the precipitous drop-off? 

Bruce is still hitting about the same number of ground balls versus fly balls, but the rate at which those fly balls are leaving the park was way down last year. For his career, 16.4% of all fly balls he's hit have gone for home runs. Last year, that number fell to 13.3%, and continued a downward trend that began in 2012 when it reached 18.7%. 

Bruce has always been a below average hitter against left-handers, but has managed to do well against righties. That has all changed over the last two seasons.


Somewhere along the line, Bruce lost the ability to hit for power against right-handers. Which makes you question why the Blue Jays thought he'd be a good addition to a line-up that features a ton of right-handers already and needs a lefty bat that can mash pitchers who throw right-handed. 

Outside of that, there hasn't been much change in some of the other data. His walk rate last year (8.9%) wasn't too far off from his career average (9.3%), and his strikeout percentage (22.3%) was the lowest of his career. However, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .251 was his lowest since his second year in the league in 2009.

Much of that BABIP regression is because of defensive shifting, which resulted in a career low .177 batting average on ground balls last season. And that isn't likely to change anytime soon.

However, the good news is that some of Bruce's power returned in 2015. His isolated power (ISO) increased from .156 in 2014 to .209 last year. 

Amazingly, Bruce is still just 28 years old, and there is a chance he could rediscover how to hit 30 homers in a season once again. But he'll need to improve against right-handers and start to re-generate the power on fly balls that he seems to have lost over the last two seasons.