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One2Watch4: Reds OF Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce knows how to make a good first impression. He had one of the most memorable MLB debuts in late May of 2008, going 15-26 with three home runs in his first week as a major league player. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he was the first player since Mitchell Page of the Athletics in 1977 to reach both of those levels in his first seven days in MLB.

Bruce finished up 2008 with 21 HR and a solid .254/.314/.453 line and entered 2009 with high expectations. A quick glance at Bruce’s 2009 stats may cause some fans to think Bruce suffered a sophomore slump, as he hit just .223, which ranked 10th-worst among the 252 players with at least 350 PA last season. But digging deeper into his numbers, we see that he actually made significant progress at the plate, which makes him is One2Watch4 in 2010.

One reason for fans to expect a more productive season by Bruce this year is that he had just a .221 batting average on balls in play, tied for the second-lowest in the majors (min. 350 PA), and well below his .296 mark in 2008. Bruce’s poor BABIP was a popular topic during the season as Redleg Nation wondered why their young star was underperforming.

BRUCE WANED

Jay Bruce's BABIP in 2009 season

Because BABIP has been shown to reflect more luck than skill, we can likely expect Bruce’s overall batting average to increase in 2010 as more of his batted balls find holes in the defense and become hits. A look at his BABIP splits reveal where the improvement could come from: Bruce appeared to be especially unlucky on his flyballs and line drives hit.

But the potential for a breakout year in 2010 by Bruce isn’t just related to a reversal of his bad luck from last season – Bruce also made significant progress in his core peripheral stats from 2008 to 2009, improving his plate discipline, contact skills and power production.

1. His walk rate increased from 7.3% to 9.8% while his chase percentage dropped from 30.4% to 26.0%.

2. His contact rate rose from 71.6% to 75.9% as his strikeout rate fell from 24.3% to 19.4%.

3. His isolated power (calculated as slugging percentage minus batting average, and a measure of a hitter’s raw power through his extra bases hit per at-bat) went from .199 to .246 and he homered every 15.7 at-bats in 2009 compared to every 19.7 in 2008.

SOFT SERVE

Jay Bruce vs non-fastballs in his MLB career

There is one potential area of concern for Bruce in 2010: according to Inside Edge, his percentage of non-fastballs seen rose from 39% in his rookie season to 44% last year, and Bruce’s hitting performance vs breaking/off-speed stuff was worse in 2009 compared to 2008.

In 2008, Bruce took advantage of pitchers mistakes with non-fastballs when he was behind the count. Against those that were located in the middle-third of the strike zone (waist-high), he was 9-for-18 with three home runs. In 2009, he actually had more at-bats of this type, but didn’t have the same magic, going 5-for-25 with one home run.

These are small sample sizes, so it will be worth watching how he handles breaking balls in the strike zone when he’s behind in the count in 2010.