Seattle Mariners: Forgotten Addition Jay Bruce A Player to Watch
In perhaps their biggest deal in a busy off-season, the Seattle Mariners traded away Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the New York Mets for two heralded prospects. But they also acquired a power bat in that deal.
Of course, the power bat the Mariners acquired in the said deal was that of Jay Bruce. Primarily viewed as a salary counterbalance to Cano’s contract in the deal (rightfully so), people have glossed over what the Mariners may actually be getting in Bruce.
Bruce, an 11-year veteran outfielder, was awful in 2018, which has led many to write him off as a player. In 2018, he slashed .223/.310/.370 and don’t get me wrong, that is bad. But Bruce also battled injuries in 2018 and isn’t far removed from being a productive player in this league.
In fact, one does not need to look further back than 2017 to see a pretty typical Jay Bruce season. That season, Bruce slashed .254/.324/.508 with 36 home runs and 101 RBI. In 2016, Bruce slashed .250/.309/.506 with 33 home runs an 99 RBI.
So what gives? Did Bruce just go from a .800+ OPS hitter to complete trash during his age 31 seasons? It’s not impossible, but players don’t typically fall apart that early. Bruce is most certainly on the downslope of his career, but the odds that he has bottomed out are slim to none.
When you look at his batted ball profile, very little changed from 2017 to 2018. His line drive rate improved by 3%, his groundball rate dropped 4%, and his BABIP stayed well within the margin of error. In fact, Bruce actually walked more and struck out less in 2018 than in 2017. So what gives?
In 2018, Bruce finished the year with a 6.1% barrel rate. For context, George Springer also had a 6.1% barrel rate, and Mitch Haniger landed at 6.9%. However, Bruce average exit velocity of 88.3 MPH (same as Carlos Correa), while in 2017 it was a whopping… 88.4 MPH. Huh.
By all indications, Bruce was more or less the same hitter at the plate last year, with drastically worst results. It is difficult to not look at the injury as the primary cause for Bruce’s 2018 season. All of these numbers don’t indicate a steep decline and make Bruce a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.
If Bruce can return to the same level of 2017 Bruce, he can help the Mariners win games early, and net them a decent prospect or two later. Bruce was the afterthought of the big Jarred Kelenic/ Justin Dunn trade, but Mariners fans shouldn’t forget about the 32-year-old veteran.