A More Dramatic Jay Bruce

Up against last year’s trade deadline, the Mets acquired Jay Bruce from the Reds for a pair of legitimate prospects. Bruce was in the midst of a stellar first half but didn’t perform for New York as they imagined. In September, August Fagerstrom at Fangraphs wrote a wonderful piece on how they didn’t get the player they traded for. He brings up great points about Bruce’s swing and aggression and how, ultimately, the Mets were a weird fit for Bruce because of who they already had in the organization.

The article made me wonder: did they really not get the player they traded for?

Let’s consider Bruce’s numbers since he debuted in the majors in 2008. I’ve gathered and examined his monthly production in four categories. Batting average and homeruns are used to provide a plain glance at counting numbers; weighted runs created+ and weighted on-base average add depth by accounting for the value of his hits.

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This chart breaks down when Bruce gets on base and creates runs best and when he does so worst. May, June, and September are his strongest months, while July and August are his weakest.

Now let’s look at how Bruce performed this season, using the same metrics.

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This year, Bruce’s best months were still May, June, and September. His poorest were still July and August. In his piece, Fagerstrom noted Bruce’s alarming swing rates, and how they contributed to the Mets getting someone different than who they traded for. For context, below are his overall swing percentages and his out-of-zone swing percentages by month.

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It’s not a far leap to see how Bruce’s August aggression sent him into a nosedive. But this is only this season. If we look at his by-month career averages for overall swing percentage and out-of-zone swing percentage the numbers don’t exactly mirror Bruce’s 2016. However, the trend is the same: he’s more aggressive and less selective in August. 

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Combined with the hitting data above, I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to say the Mets did get who they traded for. It was just a more dramatic version of that player and not who they hoped for.

I think New York knew what they were getting into when trading for Bruce and took one of two approaches in doing so. The first is that it was clearly an outlier and above average season for him. As such, maybe they felt his foreseeable low points would also be above average, and they’d still get the production they needed. 

The other approach they might have taken is how July is typically Bruce’s worst month. Because they got him at the deadline – right at the start of August – maybe they felt the worst was already over. Either of these trains of thought would have gotten them to Bruce in September, where he’s his vintage self. Neither accounted for a cratering August, but the only people I know who negotiate trades on worst case scenarios are the charlatans in my fantasy leagues. 

Ultimately, the Mets took a shot that didn’t work out. They exercised Bruce’s option at the beginning of November though and he may well be on the move because of their crowded outfield. If he gets traded again, I wonder if he’ll fit better in the acquring team’s lineup than he did New York’s.

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