Jay Bruce's Big-Time Power Would Fill Missing Link in Dodgers Offense

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 30, 2016

Cincinnati Reds' Jay Bruce hits an RBI-single off of Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Godley in the third inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 24, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Aaron Doster/Associated Press

By the time you finish reading this sentence, Jay Bruce may have already become the newest member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But if he's still on the Cincinnati Reds by the time you've gotten to this sentence, we can only go so far as imagining how well Bruce would fit in Dodger blue.

Bruce's name has been linked to the Dodgers, who began Friday with just a two-game deficit in the NL West, on the rumor mill here and there throughout the last couple of weeks. But the real whopper came Friday evening. As reported by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, there's a plot afoot that could land the veteran right fielder in Los Angeles ahead of the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline:

Jayson Stark @jaysonst

Rumblings of a big 3-team extravaganza brewing with the Dodgers, Reds & a mystery team. Jay Bruce would land in LA when the dust settles

We don't know much more, save for one detail that's equal parts plausible and significant.

Twitter was abuzz with speculation about Yasiel Puig possibly being involved in the deal, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported the Dodgers and Reds couldn't work out a deal involving Puig and Bruce. 

With Puig out of the picture, a report from Jon Morosi of MLB Network suggests the Dodgers will need to pony up prospects to get Bruce. Because Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has been protective of his farm system, it shouldn't be taken as a certainty that a deal will get done.

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But if a deal is made, Bruce will be a fit for the Dodgers lineup in more ways than one.

With an .895 OPS through 95 games, Bruce would be a major upgrade for a right field spot that hasn't given the Dodgers much offensive production. No thanks to Puig and his disappointing .693 OPS, the Dodgers entered Friday getting just a .713 OPS out of right field. That ranked in the bottom five of MLB.

But Bruce's real appeal? Pictured here, that would be his expertise in the matter of clobberage:

With six dingers in his last five games, Bruce is already up to 25 home runs in 2016. That puts him just one short of his 2015 total and within reach of his career high of 34.

A power bat of that magnitude is just what the doctor ordered for this Dodgers lineup. It entered Friday ranked ninth in the National League in home runs and 12th in slugging percentage.

The Dodgers have hitters with good power, to be sure, but some of them come with question marks. For example, here's Buster Olney of ESPN.com with a not-so-encouraging Adrian Gonzalez observation:

Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN

Part of the motivation for LAD in a Jay Bruce trade would be the increasing concern about Adrian Gonzalez's power: .371 SLG last 81g.

Super-rookie Corey Seager is also struggling with power all of a sudden, as there's a goose egg in his home run column for July. Albeit with an injury absence in the middle, Joc Pederson has homered only six times since May 18.

Of course, it's fair to view both Bruce's power and overall production with a skeptical eye. He's 29, which is a little old to be coming into career-best power. And after he managed just a .695 OPS across 2014 and 2015, what he's doing this year may also seem too good to be true.

But poor health played a significant role in Bruce's struggles in '14 and '15. He had to have surgery on his left knee in 2014, and his recovery from that seemed to last into the next season.

One way to tell he's legitimately back this season, though, is by looking at how hard he's hitting the ball. It shows in his surface-level stats, but even better is how he entered Friday with a career-best 37.8 hard-hit percentage.

Apr 4, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) hits a two-run single during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

"I just feel stronger," Bruce told Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com in May. "I hit a lot of balls on the ground the last two years, and I usually don't do that too, too much. I think in 2014, it had something to do with my knee. And I think in 2015, the bad habits I had carried over. So it's just fixing that. I haven't felt terrible, haven't felt great. I'm just trying to keep my blinders on and go to work."

As August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs highlighted in the spring, another thing to look for in 2016 would be whether the lefty-swinging Bruce was capable of hitting with power to the opposite field. Sure enough, his oppo power has gone way up:

  • 2014: .313 SLUG%
  • 2015: .374 SLUG%
  • 2016: .686 SLUG%

To boot, Bruce hasn't needed the cozy confines of Great American Ball Park to boost his power. He has hit for more power (.608 SLUG%) on the road than he has at home (.538 SLUG%).

Add it all up, and you get power that would play at Dodger Stadium and make the Dodgers lineup more dangerous. That's not a happy thought for the San Francisco Giants. Their lead in the NL West has shrunk in part because the Dodgers offense has gotten better every month even without a steady power presence.

If there's a silver lining for the Giants and others who would be tasked with silencing a Dodgers lineup with Bruce in it, it's that adding him wouldn't provide the kind of balance L.A. needs.

Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick aside, the Dodgers offense skews left-handed. That's helped lead to the league's worst OPS against left-handed pitching. The struggle would continue with Bruce, who turns into a lesser hitter against same-side pitching.

Still, the Dodgers' platoon split hasn't barred them from getting this far. That has a lot to do with how their offense is coming together at the right time. Adding Bruce to the mix could allow it to take off.

All they have to do now is get a deal done.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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