Jay Bruce made a commitment to hit more fly balls in 2017, something he never really tried before. This is not to say he didn’t hit a lot of fly balls before in his career. He was, but it was in an attempt to hit home runs.
Bruce figured that if he changed his mindset to hit lots of fly balls instead of hitting home runs, then he would avoid his long struggles like in 2016. Bruce’s wRC+ by the months were: 151, 91, 147, 103, 122, and 91. So while his May and September numbers weren’t great, he avoided having those dreadful months where he looks awful like he did in 2016 (51 wRC+ in August).
Bruce told Travis Schwick of Fangraphs and the Athletic, “My whole career I’ve heard ‘You have to use the whole field, you have to hit it the other way.’ The [Mets] said listen ‘Why don’t you do what you do best more often? Everything else is going to fall into place.’ It has been nothing but true.”
Bruce clearly listened to the Mets judging by what he did with his batted balls. Bruce decreased his ground ball rate from 37.1% in 2016 to 32.5% in 2017, his new career low and the sixth lowest in all of baseball.
While that drop may seem small, the Greek God of hitting, Joey Votto, told Bruce that “Everyone goes into the season and they want to make all these crazy changes and they want to improve so drastically. But to get 2 or 3 percent better at something is really, really great.”
As a result of his drop in ground balls, Bruce’s launch angle went from 14.6 degrees to 18.2 degrees in 2017. The product of Bruce’s changed approach was his highest wOBA since 2012, his highest OBP since 2013, his highest wRC+ since 2013, and his highest slugging since 2012.
It’s very possible the Mets signed him earlier this week to a three-year, $39 million deal on the hope that he continues his attempts to elevate. Hopefully Bruce continues using analytics in his swing to increase his production for 2018 and beyond.