Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why All The Panic Surrounding Jay Bruce?

I knew it. I freaking knew it. Jay Bruce isn't struggling anywhere near as much as you idiots said he was. Before proving the doubters wrong, take a look at the moronic things I've heard over the last month or so:

1. Bruce should be dropped in the lineup.

2. Bruce should be platooning in right.

3. Bruce should be sent back to AAA Louisville.

4. Bruce laughs his way through Hurricane Katrina documentaries.

Okay, I made up the last one. Anyway, suggestions 2 and 3 are obviously stupid, and only No. 1 makes a bit of sense (when he's facing lefties, of course -- but I still wouldn't drop him)

Now the whole "I knew it" part.

Know anything about BABIP? It stands for batting average on balls in play. I'll try not to make your head spin with every nugget that goes into this valuable statistic (mostly because I don't understand every nugget), but here's the white meat: It helps determine how lucky or unlucky a hitter is by eliminating home run and strikeout totals (and I think rewarding sac flies) by only measuring (hello) balls put in play. Simply: Did it result in a hit or an out when Player X put the ball in play?

League norm is right around .300.

Jay Bruce's 2009 BABIP sits at .221, good for third lowest in the league. In other words, he's remarkably unlucky.

When I discovered that this morning, I immediately called my brothers and friends and threw the numbers in their face. I also screamed, "I KNEW IT!"

Their rebuttals had a lot of "Yeah, buts." Yeah, but he struggles mightily against lefties...Yeah, but his strikeout totals are still way too high.

Yeah, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about what percentage of the balls he puts in play turn into hits, and which turn into outs.

A few weeks back Jay Bruce went through an 0-15 spell that caused panic on local radio. But it was all nonsense. I watched a five at-bat sequence during that very same "slump" that included three fly-outs -- not to the warning track -- but to the wall. I mean, five feet in each case gives him 17 HRs before the end of May! That's Eric Davis in 1987 territory! Exclamation point!

Still not sold on the BABIP statistic?

How about Lance Berkman's 2002 season: The man they call Fat Elvis hit 42 HRs and drove in a league-high 128 runs; his BABIP was .302. He also threw up a .302 in '05 and a .300 in '07. For one of the consistently excellent hitters of the generation you'd expect more than league average in this category, right? Right? Wrong. BABIP doesn't discriminate.

Oh, I have more...

Manny Ramirez, 1998, right in the thick of his prime: 45 HRs, 145 RBI and...wait for it...a .296 BABIP. His batting average in '98 was only .294, but he wasn't slumping; he merely was semi-unlucky when he wasn't hitting home runs.

Alex Rodriguez's 2002 was off the charts, and yet he was slightly unlucky: 57 HRs, 142 RBI, .290 BABIP.

Albert Pujols has spent plenty of time on the unlucky side, as well: .292 BABIP in '06 (same year he hit 49 HRs and 137 RBI) and .298 in '04. And 2004's a good case study for Reds fans. That same season Adam Dunn had a .321 BABIP, and it contributed greatly to his .266 batting average, the highest of his career. The funny thing about Dunn's 2004 is that he struck out 195 times (also a career high). Which means his astronomical strikeout totals were offset (and then some) by his lucky season at the plate. I remember thinking after Dunn's 2004 that maybe he turned the corner. In reality, he was just lucky. That's why his BABIP was 23 points higher than Pujols, the National League's best player.

You get the idea. Nobody is bulletproof.

(A few things to clear up: I realize I called it unlucky for A-Rod, Pujols, etc., to hit around .300 on balls put in play, even though I called it league norm a few sentences prior. It is league norm, and even the best players aren't immune to having a sub-.300 BABIP. But the best players will generally hit well over the .300 mark. The reason is simple: The best players consistently strike the ball harder than average and below average players, and well-struck balls are more difficult to catch)


I'm not sure why some of you are on Bruce's case, but hopefully the BABIP statistic will help. Just think of it like this: If Bruce's BABIP were somewhere around .280 (still below league average, but significantly better) his batting average would likely be in the .265 range and his RBI total would be closer to 40 than 30. Translation: This city would look like it was sponsored by Jay Bruce jerseys.

Besides, the naysayers are worried about the wrong stats with Bruce. Forget his struggles with lefties and his frustrating strikeout totals. Hell, stupid as it may seem, forget about everything we just learned about his unlucky BABIP, and focus on his power.

When Shaquille O'Neal was on the come-up, his detractors often said, "All he does is dunk." And I always argued, "Why not?" It's the most high-percentage shot in basketball; if you can dunk, why settle for a fade-away jumper?

Something similar is happening with Bruce and frustrated Reds fans.

They consistently bring up what he can't do (or hasn't done), and fail to recognize his otherworldly home run numbers. And home runs, as we all know, are far more important than singles or doubles.

Jay Bruce is 22-years-old. He's hit 35 HRs in less than 162 career games. He won't turn 23 until the first week of the 2010 season. So, figuring conservatively, he'll have around 60 HRs on the back of his Donruss before his next birthday.

Would you like me to put things in context? I thought so.

Lance Berkman didn't hit his 60th long ball 'til he was 26, and he's got a realistic shot at 450 for his career.

2006 MVP Ryan Howard averaged over 50 HRs the last three seasons; just like Berkman, his 60th HR didn't come until he was 26.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with this...

Current Reds wonderboy Joey Votto will turn 26 before the end of the season; he has 36 career HRs, one more than Bruce despite playing in 57 more games. This isn't to take anything away from Votto, who I'm sure is capable of walking across the Ohio River, but it does speak to how far ahead of the field Jay Bruce is.

Hitting 35 homers before playing 162 games is impressive. Doing it at the age of 22 is the height of impressiveness.

I know it doesn't seem like it, but Jay Bruce has exceeded expectations thus far. Barring injury, this guy's a superstar.

Don't think so? I'm taking bets.

Any takers?

-Brad Spieser (Brad@TwinKilling.com)


Daniel Phillips said...

In my opinion Bruce is like Hunter Pence was last year, except with more power. If he can keep his strikeouts down he'll be just fine. It will come with time. I don't think he'll be an elite hitter like a Pujols or Berkman but I do think he'll be in that second tier of players. On another note, Berkman would have easily hit 500 home runs if he hadn't had such a late start. The Astros farm system is known for pulling the trigger too late on young talent. I'd be more worried about the pitching if I were the Reds GM.

deQuadra said...

So, as long as you put the bat on the ball, you've done your part and the rest is up to the baseball gods? I don't buy it.

Twin Killing dot Com said...


Pujols is a once in a million player - forget comparing anyone to him. Pence debuted in the bigs at 24; Bruce 21. Now, Pence is a fine player, and I'm not sure Bruce will ever be as good as Pence, but the age difference is significant.


Chris Dickerson's BABIP in 2008 was .410 -- the luckiest of the lucky. This season he's sitting at .318 -- luckier than most.

Are you going to tell me a guy with very little power like Dickerson is in Jay Bruce's startosphere as a hitter?

Daniel Phillips said...

Pence and Bruce are still early in their careers when it comes to major league pitching. Pence is only better because of the age difference. Bruce might be a unlucky, but he will be a great player. I only like Pence better because of his speed to steal bases and his defensive ability. At the plate though, Bruce will be better.

RampantRedsFan said...

I think that the assumption that BABIP shows luck is a bad assumption. The fact is that if you have a low BABIP you generally fly out more (non-sac) and more choppers.

With that being said I think you are right about Bruce. He's 21. We should not worry.

deQuadra said...

It's just a BS stat. The stats geeks have gone so far as to judge players on "would haves" and "should haves"? How about rating players based on getting the job done rather than how many times they fly out to the warning track. Maybe Kal Daniels should be in the Hall Of Fame. He just never seemed to hit it that extra 10 feet. Not his fault. He had great talent. He was just unlucky. Give me a break.

TC said...

Alright, know-it-all.

Bruce has a very low LD% and hits a lot of fly balls. Fly balls fall into play a lot less than any other type of batted ball.

Therefore, this is what is fueling Bruce's low season average.

I just find it funny for all the knee-jerk reactions when a player has a low BABIP. They must always be unlucky, it never has anything to do with their approach at the plate and what kind of swing they put on the ball.