Checking in on Jay Bruce’s defense with advanced numbers

One of the criticisms of the Mets heading into the 2017 season was how they weren’t a very athletic club and this was likely to show up on the defensive side of things. One of the main sources of this criticism was Jay Bruce and how he was one dimensional on offense and that he would be a liability when he took to the field.

Last year with the Reds, the two main advanced defensive systems were in almost perfect agreement on Bruce. DRS had him as a (-13) while UZR had him at (-12.9) in 838 innings in right field. Recall that a full season is considered 1,200 innings. Both systems saw him in the vicinity of two wins below average defensively, which is horrible.

But in his time with the Mets, Bruce flipped the script. In 351.2 innings, DRS had him at +2 while UZR showed him at +4. Throughout his career, Bruce has been all over the map defensively. But after posting a 10.2 UZR in 2013, he finished in negative numbers in both 2014 and 2015 before his lousy start to 2016. The numbers are similar with DRS, although that system had him as a positive fielder in 2015.

Also, remember that defensive numbers take longer than offensive numbers to stabilize. So, knowing all that we did about Bruce, the logical assumption was that his numbers with the Mets were more of a sample size fluke than anything else.

Fast forward to 2017 and we see numbers more in line with what he did with the Mets last year than the poor numbers with the Reds. Again, we’re not dealing with a large sample. And this time it’s even narrowed further because of his time spent at first base. But as a right fielder, DRS has a +1 while UZR has him at (-0.7) in 282 innings. Essentially, both systems see him as a league average fielder.

FanGraphs now has Inside Edge numbers available at the site. The nice thing about this system is that it breaks down all of the plays into six different categories, based on how often they are turned into outs. The rankings range from impossible to routine and include percentages. Here’s how Bruce has done in each of the categories so far this year in right field:

Routine (90-100%) – He’s made all 59 plays that fell into this category.
Likely (60-90%) – He’s made the only play in this category.
Even (40-60%) – There have been four balls in this category and Bruce has not made one of them.
Unlikely (10-40%) – Only one play fell in this bucket and it was not made.
Remote (1-10%) – Bruce did not make the play on the two balls from this grouping.
Impossible (0%) – As expected, none of the 15 plays in this category were made.

Ignoring the impossible grouping, Bruce has had 67 plays of various difficulty and has made 60 of them. But how good is that?

We can look at what all RF have done in MLB. There have been 2,067 balls in the Routine grouping and MLB right fielders have made 98.7% of these plays. So, assuming all balls in this bucket are equally distributed, we can infer that Bruce has made one more play than we would expect. But MLB RFers made Even plays 54.8% of the time, meaning Bruce should have made the play on two of the four balls, instead of the zero he actually made. So, overall, he’s down a play. All of the other categories he’s essentially matched what was expected.

So, we look at Bruce with the most advanced numbers we can that are in the free domain and we see a guy who is essentially average in the field. DRS, UZR and Inside Edge all see the same thing from him so far this season. We’ll see if the three systems remain in agreement throughout the rest of the season.

Bruce has been a pleasant surprise offensively so far in 2017. And anyone who was worried about his defensive output has to be pleased with what he’s done in the field this year, too.

As long as we’re looking at defensive numbers, let’s check in on Curtis Granderson in center field. There was a fair amount of trepidation on how Granderson would handle the move back to the middle of the field at his advanced baseball age. In 194.2 innings in center so far this year, DRS has Granderson at 0, meaning he’s been league average out there. But UZR has him at (-2.5), which over a full season translates to a (-17.5) or about how bad Bruce projected to be in his time with the Reds last year.

Here are the Inside Edge numbers for Granderson in center:

Routine – 43 of 44 (97.5)
Likely – 2 of 3 (66.7)
Even – 2 of 3 (66.7)
Unlikely – 0 plays
Remote – 0 of 2
Impossible – 0 of 10

MLB center fielders make Routine plays 99.4 percent, Likely plays 85.4 percent and Even plays 54.4 percent of the time. So, Granderson has made one fewer play than the average center fielder. Inside Edge and DRS are in agreement on Granderson, while UZR is slightly more pessimistic on what he’s done in this small sample size.

10 comments for “Checking in on Jay Bruce’s defense with advanced numbers

  1. MattyMets
    May 18, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Not sure if it’s factored into these numbers, but I’ve seen a few runners get extra bases while Bruce lumbers after a ball in the corner.

  2. Eraff
    May 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Wow…that Iceberg was bigger than we Thought!…but on a Bright Note……………….. Jay is sticking some surprising D!

    • May 18, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      If you want to re-hash the iceberg – please go back and visit any of the last seven Gut Reactions. Since that’s been covered over and over and over again, I thought it would be healthy to look at something else.

  3. Eraff
    May 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Sadly, the next round of discussion will be about Trade Valuations…. Jay is Helping!

    I have a short window of Blind Hope…Realistic Outcome is that I hope July will bring (at least) some idea that there are pitchers in-house and some young players for 2018.

    Sometimes you run into a buzz saw lost year—this is certainly looking like one.

  4. Name
    May 18, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    I guess it doesn’t really matter how Granny is doing defensively because with his offensive numbers being so pathetic, you might as well just play Lagares.

    • May 18, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      I disagree.

      We’ve seen this pattern pretty much the entire time Granny has been a Met. Unbelievably bad stretches and stretches where he’s good or better. You can look at his season line and conclude that he’s washed up. Or you can see the same thing as 2014 or 2015 or 2016. He was terrible for a stretch and lately, he’s been good. In his last 13 games he has an .833 OPS. Is that great? No, because it’s just 48 PA and doesn’t make up for the 97 PA that came before it. But pretty much everything we’ve seen from him before now indicates that he’ll continue this stretch for a longer period. Taking him out now would prevent the Mets from continuing to benefit from the bounceback.

      Meanwhile, how far do you have to go back to see a streak of 100 consecutive PA for Lagares where he posted an .800+ OPS? He had one in the beginning of 2014.

      It doesn’t make sense to live through the drought with Granny and take him out now at the beginning of the resurgence, especially when the replacement is a guy with a .662 OPS in 1,500+ PA. Lagares is just not a starting-caliber OF. Anyone hellbent on replacing Granny would be better off stumping for Brandon Nimmo, because at least there’s the hope for upside. But that’s a tough cause to get behind when he’s hitting .132 in LVG.

      To me, the best option is to ride Granny until Cespedes comes back. And at that point we can see if Granny’s resurgence has legs and if Bruce (batting .236 in his last 22 games) has heated up again and go from there.

      • Name
        May 19, 2017 at 2:08 am

        If you’re trying to play the hot hand argument, Lagares also has a .798 OPS over that same stretch (albeit in half the PA).

        And while Granny certainly more upside than Lagares offensively, it’s clear that he has one of the lowest floors in the game as well. I mean, a .386 OPS in nearly 100 PA is nearly unheard of. Especially when offense continues to be up and 750-800 is the new average.

        In another splice of the 13 game view:

        May3+5 (2 GS): 3-8 with a HR (1.444 OPS)
        May 6-14 (7 GS) .493 OPS
        May 15-17 (2 GS) : 3-7 with a HR (1.413 OPS)

        That doesn’t look like he’s turned the corner to me.

        • May 19, 2017 at 7:28 am

          Yeah, the floor is extremely problematic and I wish they did a better job of resting/benching him during the poor stretch.

  5. Eraff
    May 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    They may as well find out if Lego can hit or not—-maybe it helps you move ahead via trade or keeping Juan. Grandy has certainly crushed any remaining value that he had in Play or in Trade

  6. May 19, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Mets will be in dumpster mode in July if they cannot turn things around. I still have hope, but guys like Grandy, Duda, Walker, Reyes possibly Harvey could all be gone this July, even with a turnaround of sorts. Better to get something vs nothing. Nimmo, D. Smith, Rosario, and the ‘replacemets’ from last year, Lugo and Gsellman can all replace these guys while Sandy picks up some prospects in return. The NL has some upstarts like the Rockies and D Backs for the WC and it is not going to be easy. The NL East is already gone. So, it would be nice to make a run, but if by the All Star game Mets are still floundering, Sandy needs to get moving and build the team for 2018 and beyond, because the Braves and Phils, and Marlins with new owners pending, surely will be ! Those teams are not staying as doormats forever.

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