Jay Bruce was the 12th overall pick in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft, selected by the Cincinnati Reds, out of West Brook HS in Beaumont, TX. He was instantly considered a top prospect in their deep farm system at the time (Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Drew Stubbs, Grant Balfour, to name a few).
Since making his MLB debut in May 2008, the now-30-year-old Bruce has a career slash line of .249/.319/.472 with 277 home runs, 272 doubles, 1,294 hits, and 838 RBI over 1,416 games. His 162-game averages of 32 homers, 96 RBI, and 31 doubles make Bruce one of the premier power threats in the majors over the last decade.
Bruce busted onto the scene in 2008, finishing 5th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and slashing .254/.314/.453 with 21 home runs and 52 RBI over 473 at-bats. He followed up his rookie campaign with another decent season.
His slashes dipped to .223/.303/.470 (an increase in SLG%), but his power numbers and RBI both saw increases, even in 100-plus fewer at-bats (22 home runs, 58 RBI, 345 at-bats). It was becoming quite clear that the Reds had a very special player in their system.
If 2009 was his emergence, consider 2010 Jay Bruce‘s welcome party. In 509 at-bats, the then-23-year-old hit 25 homers, 21 doubles, and drove in 70 runs. His .281/.353/.493 slash line and 1.2 dWAR gave Bruce his still-second-highest WAR (4.7) and highest OPS+ (124) of his career.
From 2010 through 2013 in Cincinnati, Bruce averaged 150 hits, 32 doubles, 30 home runs, 94 RBI, and 158 strikeouts per season, as well as owning an OPS+ of 121 over that span. His first two career All-Star Game selections came in 2011 and 2012, respectively. For these four seasons, Jay Bruce could easily be considered one of the most offensively-gifted outfielders in the National League.
Before we continue, let’s address Bruce’s defense for a second. In his best WAR seasons, 2010 (4.7 WAR) and 2013 (5.3 WAR), his dWAR was the highest it’s been in his entire career, by a mile in some cases. In 2010 his dWAR was a respectable 1.2 and in 2013 it was 1.1, both decent. During the seasons in between those years, 2011-12, Bruce’s dWAR was -0.9 and -1.1, respectively.
His UZR during 2010 and 2013? In 2010 Bruce’s 19.6 UZR ranked third in MLB, behind only Brett Gardner (25.8) and Michael Bourn (19.8). In 2013, though his UZR dropped to 10.2, it was still good enough for 19th in the majors (all positions).
His UZR in 2011 was -0.4, a significant drop from 2010, and in 2012, it was a horrendous -4.7. Clearly, Bruce put in the work and got better in the field. His huge increase from -4.7 UZR to 10.2 in 2013 makes that plainly obvious.
It almost seems that when Bruce puts in the effort to improving his defensive play, he does. Hopefully, that trend continues in his second stint in Flushing, as his last few seasons have been defensively poor, UZR-wise (-7.2 combined, 2014-17, though that includes his 1.8 UZR in 2017) Back to business…
In 2014, Jay Bruce suffered what he called, “the most embarrassing year of my life”. After finishing 10th in NL MVP voting in 2012 and 2013, Bruce slashed .217/.281/.373 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI in 137 games played in 2014. Something most definitely seemed to be off, but most shrugged his struggles off as simply an off-year.
Unfortunately, 2015 wasn’t much kinder to Bruce. In a full season of work (157 games), he hit just .226 with a .729 OPS, 35 doubles, 26 home runs, and 87 RBI. His 97 OPS+ is tied for the second-worst mark in his career with his ’08 rookie season and behind his 82 OPS+ in 2014.
His 2016, 29-year-old season was split between the Reds and the New York Mets. Until the point he got traded, Bruce was seemingly back to being himself. With 25 home runs, 80 RBI, a slash line of .250/.309/.506, and an OPS+ of 126, Sandy Alderson had just cause to make a deal for the reinvigorated slugger, sending Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell to Cincinnati in return.
During his first stint with the Mets, which lasted from the 2016 trade deadline to the 2017 trade deadline, Jay Bruce played virtually a full season (153 games). During that time he slashed .249/.313/.482 with 37 home runs, 25 doubles, 94 RBI, and a 108 OPS+. He managed to put up that production despite hitting .219/.294/.391 with only six home runs and 19 RBI over his first 50 games with the team.
After a mid-season trade last year, Bruce completed one of the best seasons of his career with the Cleveland Indians (.254/.324/.508, 36 home runs, 101 RBI, 29 doubles, 115 OPS+). The Mets decided to bring him back on a free-agent contract this past offseason.
It makes sense to have Bruce back with the team considering the cost of his new contract (three years, $39 million) and the fact that he is in the prime of his on-the-upswing career. If we see these types of numbers from Jay Bruce over the next few seasons, it’ll be worth every Orange & Blue cent The Wilpons spent on him.