Cincinnati Reds in Review: RF Jay Bruce

For the six years prior to Jay Bruce’s 2014 campaign, the chant went a little something along the lines of, “BRUUUUUCEEE!!,” and not “BOOOOO!” But now, after a season marred by personal injury, an underwhelming season both as a team and from an individual performance standard, Jay Bruce looks to rebound in 2015 as the player Reds fans have come to adore as their golden armed right fielder.

Jay Bruce – Right Fielder

Jay Bruce belongs to the Cincinnati Reds. Not literally, of course, considering he was closer to being a San Diego Padre a few weeks ago than many of us realize. It has now been over nine years since Bruce was drafted 12th overall out of Beaumont, Texas, in the 2005 draft, and the Reds have been all he has known.

Along with nearly every significant member of the roster, Bruce suffered an injury during 2014 that would derail him. In his case, he attempted to play through it, in a similar way that Brandon Phillips came back far too soon from his injury in a last ditch effort to help the Reds make a playoff push. But where the two differ is in timing. In Bruce’s situation, he had surgery to repair his torn meniscus during the first week of May. Meaning, for the remainder of the season he played on what was a bum leg—and after watching Joey Votto attempt to play baseball just on a badly bruised quad, we’ve seen how dramatic leg injuries can affect a swing.

According to his agent, Jay was offered an extension during the regular season on multiple occasions. Assuming this is true, it’s puzzling. The Reds are strapped for cash and are already facing economic distress ahead of 4/5ths of their starting rotation hitting the free agency market next winter. Bruce is owed $12 million in 2015 and $12.5 million in 2016, before a team option in 2017 that would either pay him $13 million, or $1 million on a buyout.

Shopping Bruce this off-season wasn’t the Reds being fickle. They understand he was coming off back-to-back seasons of top-10 MVP finishes prior to 2014. Every season, he seemingly got better and better, accruing two All-Star appearances and Silver Slugger awards as well. As has been the common theme since the beginning of mid-market franchises, they always will either have to buy early and take a risk paying the player, or shop when their value is at its peak.

That being said, Bruce is reaching his prime. While no one could ever predict his health for the 2015 season, they don’t grow slugging left-handed cleanup hitters with cannons for an arm on trees. That doesn’t even mention his insatiable appetite for success and wanting to bring a World Championship to Cincinnati. Come 2015, expect a whole lot more “BRUUUUUCEEE” than “BOOOOO.”

Bruce’s Stat Line:

.217/.281/.373, 493 AB, 21 2B’s, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 12 SB (career-high), 44 BB-149 K, 84 OPS+ (career-low), -1.1 WAR (career-low, by far)

Top Jay Bruce Moment:

In a season of far too many valleys and not enough peaks, Bruce saved whatever power and destruction he had in his bat for meetings with the St. Louis Cardinals. Bruce would whack four home runs and drive in 13 runs against the Redbirds during 2014, including five separate games that were of the multi-hit variety.

His two best came on the road in Busch Stadium, where he has hit seven career home runs, second most for any stadium that isn’t Great American Ball Park.

On August 18, Bruce clobbered a three-run home run off Justin Masterson to put the Redlegs ahead 4-3 in the fifth inning, before having to play hero again, knotting the game back up at five in the ninth inning off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

His other shining moment came on September 21, when he went deep twice for his only multi-home run game of the season. To add to it, the game was broadcast under the bright lights of Sunday Night Baseball. The Reds season was over mathematically, but Bruce’s night was one fans could cherish until 2015 comes around.

Low-Point of the Season for Jay Bruce:

When exactly Bruce’s injury occurred no one can be sure of, but on May 4, after pinch-hitting in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Jay Bruce was headed to the disabled list with a torn meniscus. Only 19 days later, he would return triumphantly to the lineup, a needed spark for a club that was suffering mightily from an early scuffle.

Things would get only worse for Bruce, who reached a season-low batting average of .203 on June 5. A completely different player, its evident Jay didn’t just forget how to play baseball overnight—he was hurt.

In an age where statistics mean literally everything to about everyone but those who play the game, Bruce cast those by the wayside while he played. He could easily sat out the season and waited until he was “110 percent,” but he played at much less than half and his numbers suffered. Now it’s on him to make sure the perception doesn’t suffer.

Final Grade: C

There were occasional flashes of the sweet-swinging Beaumont Bomber during 2014. Then there were also a whole lot of flashes of swing and misses, and failed bunt attempts to beat the shift.

To think that Jay Bruce is anything but an All-Star talent and one of the better people in the game of baseball is ludicrous. Assuming he has returned to even a reasonable expectation of health, look for Bruce to not only rebound in 2015, but also take that next step into the upper-echelon of talent.