Jay Bruce is 25-years-old. He has a career OPS of .808 and has already hit 110 career home runs in his 4.5 years in the Majors. The 6’3″, 225 pound Texan possesses tremendous power, and he is locked up in Cincinnati through 2017, counting the team option.
But is Jay Bruce ever going to become the secondary piece to the Reds infrastructure? Joey Votto is to Jeff Bagwell as Jay Bruce is to Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, or Daryl Ward. Is Bruce a potential Hall of Famer, or a potential flame out?
Once upon a time, in the year 2000 (not a reference to Conan O’Brien), Daryl Ward was a 25-year-old outfielder. He had an .833 OPS and 20 home runs in 281 at bats. He never learned to hit lefties, but he wasn’t a very good outfielder either, and he definitely didn’t make enough contact. He bounced around a little, and was released by the Diamondbacks last September. At 36, he is out of MLB and never lived up to his promise due to plate discipline issues.
Jay Bruce isn’t Daryl Ward, but can he be the Berkman/Biggio to Votto and the Reds? He has a canon for an arm and is much younger than what Ward was when he broke into the league. He isn’t in his prime, yet he has already smashed over 100 career home runs.
Bruce’s flaw seems to be his hot and cold streaks. His OBP is damaged through his bouts with the inability to take walks and make contact, as it sits at .329 over his career. This season, Bruce had an OPS of .954 in April, but he has slipped to a .762 OPS in May. From April 19 to May 4, Bruce raised his triple slash from .191/.216/.426 to .304/.347/.641, by going 19 for 45 (.422) with five home runs, 12 RBI, with an 11:5 K:BB. Since May 5, Bruce has gone just 12 for 63 (.190), with two home runs, 10 RBI, with a 21:5 K:BB.
Jay Bruce is young and inconsistent. He wasn’t awful against left-handed pitching (.802 OPS,) and he wasn’t an elite player against right-handed pitching (.822 OPS), between 2009 and 2011. He had months where he was great (.913 OPS in May, .936 OPS in August), and he had months where he wasn’t very good (.616 OPS in July, .719 OPS in June) during the 2009 to 2011 seasons.
Jay Bruce may not take the steps needed to become an elite talent. His strikeout rate is currently the highest of his career (24.4%), while his walk rate is the lowest of his career (7.0%), even counting his rookie season. Based on his current numbers, Bruce is projected to finish 2012 at .258/.308/.535, with 83 runs scored, 41 doubles, 38 home runs, 105 RBI and a 158:45 K:BB.
For all of those Reds fans who considered Adam Dunn a total waste while he was with the Reds (due to all of those strikeouts), Dunn’s career slash, counting his miserable 2011 season, still stands at .243/.374/.505, and he has averaged 93 runs, 29 doubles, 38 home runs, 96 RBI, and a 188:110 K:BB over his career. The man got on base and hit for power. Bruce can’t seem to figure out what he is. You could count on Adam Dunn to walk, strikeout or hit a home run. Bruce…well, what is he going to be counted on for? One thing is for sure, Reds fans can expect him to collect $55 million between 2013 and 2017. Is he worth it?