46% – Happy to have him back on the Mets
32% – Okay with the move as long as they spend money to bring in an infielder, too
12% – Happy to have him back but feel that money could have been better spent elsewhere
9% – Did not want to see Bruce back in a Mets uniform
Once the Mets signed Todd Frazier, nearly 80% of fans were good with the Bruce acquisition and only nine percent were completely unhappy with him. What a difference a season makes. It would be hard to imagine if we ran some poll now that we would find nine percent who were happy to have Bruce on the team.
Two of the best developments from the 2018 season – the blossoming of Brandon Nimmo and the rise of Peter Alonso – are causing a good deal of the fans’ buyers’ remorse towards Bruce. And of course there’s Bruce’s actual production last year, too. After posting an .832 OPS in 2017, Bruce managed just a .680 mark last year. While that’s still significantly better than Billy Hamilton, it’s still a long ways from good.
Bruce began the season battling plantar fasciitis and then also added back and hip injuries to the docket before mercifully going on the disabled list. His last game played before the DL stint was on June 17 and at that point he had a .212/.292/.321 line. As bad as that was, it was even worse in his last 11 games prior to the disabled stint, as he managed just a .378 OPS over his final 39 PA.
With just about everyone else on the DL, Bruce tried his best to play through his injuries. And that didn’t work out for anyone. We saw with Yoenis Cespedes that his myriad of leg and back injuries were due in part to balky heels. Cespedes has undergone surgery on both heels and while his return date is uncertain, the hope is that healthy heels will cure his other problems. Did Bruce’s foot problems cause his back/hip issues? We have to at least consider that possibility.
The DL stint lasted over two months for Bruce. When he came back the last week of August, it was a different guy than we had witnessed when he was previously playing. Recall that he had a .613 OPS before being sidelined. In his final 32 games, Bruce posted an .811 OPS – or pretty much the ballpark that was expected when the Mets re-signed him. And it wasn’t like it was some outrageous hot streak, as he had a .267 BABIP and a very reasonable 12 XBH in 125 PA.
Most Mets fans would be thrilled now if Bruce was elsewhere when the season started. Maybe they can give the guy who put up a 113 OPS+ in 2016 and a 117 OPS+ in 2017 a shot to prove that last year was wrecked due to injuries. The player whose Mets production all season was the closest to Bruce’s when he returned from the DL was Asdrubal Cabrera, who had an .817 OPS and a 128 OPS+. Wouldn’t it be nice to add a 120 OPS+ bat to the lineup at no additional cost to the current payroll?
No one will forecast that type of production from Bruce in 2019. But given our recent track record of projecting Bruce, perhaps that’s for the best. Very few people were bullish on Bruce heading into 2017 and he had a strong season for the Mets before being sent to the Indians. Then most people were on board with his return engagement in 2018 and then he was lousy.
Is it so hard to envision a 450-PA role for Bruce, where he rotates between RF and 1B, plays mostly against RHP and puts up an OPS in the .820 neighborhood? With Cespedes out for who knows how long and the Mets likely to stall Alonso’s arrival for a few months, there will be an opportunity for Bruce. Let’s hope the guy he was when healthy the last five weeks of 2018 is the one we’ll see whenever he steps on the field in the upcoming season.