Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce an Enigma at the Plate


It’s quite puzzling to figure out Jay Bruce. He is a player capable of hitting 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a season, as evidenced by 2011, 2012 and 2013. But he goes into slumps that make fans wonder if he will ever be the player he can be.

Although Bruce hit well in the weekend series against the Giants, going 5-for-13 with two home runs and hitting a couple of balls very hard to the warning track, he is currently hitting .194 with seven home runs, one double, two triples, 19 RBI and an OPS of .686. Bruce’s OBP is .291 and his slugging percentage is .395. In a word, Bruce is struggling. Even the casual baseball fan can see that. But if you were to go deeper into Bruce’s stats, it becomes interesting. And it shows that Bruce has hit into some bad luck so far in 2015.

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Most fans think that Bruce’s slide started last May when he underwent knee surgery and then came back during June. It’s natural to think he would’ve struggled as soon as he came back from surgery. Not Bruce. In 112 plate appearances in June, he batted .300 with four home runs, 12 doubles, 17 RBI and an OPS of .891.

But after June, it all went downhill for him. He batted .139 in July, with three home runs and an OPS of .488. He hit about .220 in both August and September, with four home runs in each month. And it has only continued into 2015. While Bruce has never been one to hit for average (his career batting average is .248), he’s always hit for power and this year he already has seven home runs, despite his less-than-desirable batting average.

Obviously, Bruce hasn’t been nearly the same as in years past, but regardless of his struggles, he’s been hitting the ball very hard. Per Fangraphs, his hard contact percentage is 39.3 percent. This is noticeably higher than both the previous two years and in his career (34.3 percent). Bruce is hitting the ball extremely hard right now, but has very little to show for it.

Another advanced stat many have come to use as a tool to judge how players are hitting is batting average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. Bruce’s BABIP this season is .220. This shows that when he does get the ball in play, he’s hitting it right at defenders. Given that his career BABIP is .290, it should improve as 2015 continues.

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It might help Bruce’s BABIP is if he would go opposite field down the third base line when a team puts a shift on him. He is traditionally a pull hitter, and the majority of the balls he puts in play are still to the pull side, but this year, 25.8 percent of his batted balls are being hit to the opposite side, up from a career of 22.9 percent. Contrast this with last year when only 20 percent of the balls he hit went down the third base line. This is probably the most frustrating thing about Bruce. If he would just try to change his swing during an at-bat in order to hit it to the third base side, he would get a single or a double every time. It’s easier said than done. After all, the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball and it’s even harder to make the ball go where the player wants it. Maybe he could get some tips from Joey Votto.

One thing Bruce is doing better this season is drawing walks. He has 18 walks on the season. (For comparison, Votto has 23). His walk percentage (BB%) is 12.2 percent, up from 8.1 percent in 2014 and 9.0 percent in 2013. His career BB% is 9.5 percent. While he is still striking out at a high rate, he’s at least being more patient and getting on base at a higher rate.

Bruce is a professional baseball player. He didn’t get to the major leagues by luck (although some fans probably think this is the case). He knows he has to improve. Between his slump and a little bad luck, it’s clearly been a struggle, but Bruce should hit better than he has the first month and a half of the season. His hard contact percentage, low BABIP and the law of averages attests to that. He at least should be close to his career batting average by the end of 2015. And the past four games just might be the start of a turnaround for the Cincinnati Reds’ right fielder.

Next: Reds have likely seen the last of Sean Marshall