Jun 27, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) hits an RBI single against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
With 32 days left until Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, thoughts are turning to what might be possible in 2015 on the Riverfront. Much of the answer to that question hinges on how underperformers from 2014 bounce back this season, and rightfielder Jay Bruce is one of the keys to watch. He is Number 32 on our countdown team.
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All throughout his career, Bruce has been a high-whiff, high-homer, moderate-walk guy, and all of that held true in 2014, with the notable exception of his power numbers. In 137 games, Bruce hit just 18 home runs and slugged to the tune of just .373, markedly down from the 30-dinger, .475-SLG marks that we’re used to seeing from the big lefty.
The good news is that there is a definite and encouraging explanation for Bruce’s downgraded offensive numbers. After knee surgery in May, Bruce hurried back to the lineup, which showed a lot of grit, but also sapped him of his usual production, and he never really seemed comfortable in the batter’s box or in the field.
According to FanGraphs, Bruce dropped from a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 10.1 in 2013 to a paltry -6.1 in 2014. The former mark put him in the top five RFs in all of baseball, while the 2014 tally dropped him all the way to 12th.
The good news in all this is that there is reason for hope. Blaming poor production on injuries is usually a slippery slope toward accepting consistent mediocrity, but Bruce has several factors working in his favor. He had been extremely durable before last season, and he’s still pretty young — he’ll turn 28 on April 3. Add in a full off-season of rest and rehab for that repaired knee, and Bruce’s chances of returning to something close to his previous form seem pretty good.
A healthy and productive Bruce is vital to the Reds’ hopes for contending in 2015, because they are, on the whole, an aging and uncertain bunch. If Bruce can provide some stability and run creation, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Marlon Byrd, and all the rest can breathe a little easier.