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.