After an extremely disappointing April (.228/.301/.380), Cincinnati Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce bounced back with a scorching-hot May, showcasing his elite power potential. In 28 games last month, Bruce hit .342/.402/.739 with 12 HRs and 33 RBI, and now ranks as the No. 5 player in Yahoo! leagues.
I’ve always loved Bruce for his five-tool talent. Heck, I projected him to blast 35 HRs in 2010, and forecasted at least 30 bombs and a .284 average this season. I even ranked him as the No. 54 player overall on the 2011 Big Board. But I certainly didn’t expect him to be this good so soon.
Bruce turned 24 in April. Entering play on Wednesday, he has 84 career HRs. Comparatively, Tampa Bay Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria is in his age-25 season, and has 86 career jacks. To make another audacious comparison, Bruce has hit a HR every 17.55 at-bats in his career; Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera has a career at-bat per HR rate of 18.11.
Bottom line is Jay Bruce is ridiculously good. But should we expect his current pace of 104 runs, 44 HR, 120 RBI, 11 steals and .293/.357/.572 line to continue?
Bruce’s elite power is no secret. His current batting average (.293), however, is questionable considering his career .257 batting clip prior to this season. Bruce’s BABIP (.310) is actually quite reasonable considering his mark of .334 last year (resulting in a .281 batting clip). In fact, Bruce compiled a .308 batting average in 1,359 career minor league at-bats.
To answer the question of whether he can maintain his current average then, the simple answer is yes. There lies a problem, however, in the way he’s doing it.
Bruce’s above-average BABIP would tend to indicate an above-average number of line drives. Oddly enough, his line-drive rate is just 11.2 percent, second-lowest in the majors among qualified batters. His fly-ball rate is 50.9 percent, seventh-highest in the majors. This combination explains his prodigious power numbers, but not the .290s average.
Since 2002, only four batters have finished a season with a BABIP of at least .300 and a fly-ball rate no less than 50 percent. The highest batting average of those four instances was .277. So not only is the high BABIP, high fly-ball rate combination a difficult one to maintain, but it isn’t conducive to a high batting average.
Thus, we must assume one of two things will happen: 1) Bruce’s fly-ball rate will drop and his batting average will maintain, or 2) Bruce’s fly-ball rate won’t drop, and his batting average will plummet, morphing him into Carlos Quentin.
Fortunately for Jay Bruce owners, his May splits indicate he’s already trending in the right direction:
- April: 5.6 LD percent, 53.5 FB percent, .284 BABIP
- May: 15.6 LD percent, 48.9 FB percent, .333 BABIP
Of course we’re dealing with very small sample sizes here, but there’s reason to believe Bruce can maintain a .285-.300 average with a few more line drives and a few less fly balls.
If I had to project Bruce’s season-ending line, I would be comfortable in saying 35-40 HRs is attainable with a batting average no less than .280. He’ll even push for double-digit steals.
The key to his success this season has been his dominance against left-handed pitching. Prior to 2011, Bruce—a left-handed batter—had an embarrassing .229 career average against southpaws, opposed to .269 vs. righties. This year, Bruce is crushing left-handers to the tune of .381/.435/.857 with five HRs in 42 at-bats. Again, it’s a very small sample size to draw conclusions from, but is Bruce continues to hit lefties and lower his fly-ball rate, we’re looking at a borderline top-25 player still three years shy of his prime.
Image courtesy of: Dylan Moody via Flickr
Tags: Jay Bruce