Jay Bruce looks to confound Mets fans for third straight season

In January of 2018, we had a poll asking readers – How do you feel about the Jay Bruce signing? The breakdown was as follows:

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.

20 comments for “Jay Bruce looks to confound Mets fans for third straight season

  1. John Fox
    November 25, 2018 at 10:53 am

    One key for Bruce to be an asset to the team is how well he can adapt to playing first base, corner outfield spots are in good shape but first is a big question mark.

  2. jennifer c
    November 25, 2018 at 11:43 am

    This is one of those times when you wish the Mets would act like a big-market team and eat the loss. Alonso should be the starting 1B to begin the season to hell with getting an extra year. Bruce should be dropped. He’s 1 dimensional at best and I don’t want to see his slow, incapable ass at 1B. Just…go…please.

    • TomT
      November 25, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Alonso can wait 3 weeks. If he is a solid hitter that extra year of control is big.

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • Name
      November 25, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      “Alonso should be the starting 1B to begin the season to hell with getting an extra year”

      What you term as a “big market move” should really be called a “dumb ass move”. Just because you have more resources doesn’t mean you throw logic out of the window.

      The Cubs did it with Kris Bryant. The Dodgers did it with Cody Bellinger. The Yankees did it with Gleyber Torres. The Red Sox did it with Blake Swihart. The Giants did it with Posey.

  3. November 25, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    Couple months? Mets shouldn’t care about super two just get an extra year of control by keeping Alonso down until mid April.

  4. TJ
    November 25, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    I was never big on Bruce as a Red, seeing him as more a product of his home ballpark and hitting in a lineup with Joey Votto. I gained much more respect for him in 2017, playing a solid RF and giving professional ABs regularly. He is not a dynamic player but maximizes his assets and conducts himself like a pro. I will give him the benefit of doubt last year, playing through injury as noted above.

    Two issues concern me about Bruce. I have concerns about him playing 1B regularly from a defensive perspective. Secondly, in typical Met fashion, the backloading of his contract gives them less trade flexibility…we know they “can” eat some money, but I’ve yet to recall a time that they actually did.

    I am reasonably confident that we’ll see closer to the 2017 Bruce, and that he will cover his pay in WAR. I actually see Nimmo as more likely to be dealt. Not that I want to see him go, with his high energy and OBP. Bruce is more likely to be the starting everyday RF.

    • November 25, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      I think the defensive concerns around Bruce at 1B are overblown.

      In about three games at 1B in 2014, he had a (-70.2) UZR/150
      In about 10 games at 1B in 2017, he had a (-5.9) UZR/150
      In about 20 games at 1B in 2018, he had a 2.2 UZR/150

      From a DRS perspective he was (-1) in 2014 and 0 in both 2017 and 2018. He’s extremely unlikely to be a big asset at first defensively. But he won’t be a disaster, either.

      • jennifer c
        November 25, 2018 at 2:51 pm

        “He’s extremely unlikely to be a big asset at first defensively. But he won’t be a disaster, either.” This sounds like the theme for this team. Not really a winning assessment.

  5. Mike Walczak
    November 25, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I dont like Bruce. Get rid of him. Same for Frazier.

  6. Name
    November 25, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    I don’t know if fans are just optimistic or short sighted, but i’d imagine a poll of any acquisition is overwhelming positive.
    As you noted, very few vehemently objected towards Bruce. Swarzak probably would have polled lower but i still think he would have gotten >50% favorability. Most people liked the Ramos trade. The Cuddyer signing was immensely popular and lauded.
    I can only think of a few examples where the initial fan base reaction to a big trade/signing was more negative than positive, even for non-Mets (Shelby Miller comes to mind). If we wanted to compare true positivity/negativity, the baseline should be higher than 50% to account for this bias, maybe something like 75%.

    • November 25, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Well, when the Mets decided to “go for it” in 2004 and got Victor Zambrano, quite a few of us were negative…

      But your point is taken, even if 75% seems a bit high to me.

      • Name
        November 25, 2018 at 7:03 pm

        It should probably be lower for trades, which will have more naysayers because you’re giving up something which could upset some fans.

        But it seems that fans usually don’t care whether the team overpays for a free agent at inception, because it’s not their money, yet later they lament it because it’s money not available to sign other free agents. Although i will say i’ve seen quite a few Dodger fans who are unhappy with the Kershaw extension/signing.

  7. TomT
    November 25, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Indians need OFs, how about Bruce for Kipnis? My bad contract for yours.

  8. Metsense
    November 25, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    I think Bruce will bounce back to his career stat line of.784 OPS. In the first three weeks of April he will be playing first base and Lagares will be playing center field. After that, Alonso should be playing the majority at first with Bruce spelling him. At this time Bruce will get his majority of bats from right field and Lagares will get his playing time as a fourth outfielder and defensive substitute. The Mets need two second tier good relievers and a cather like Grandal or Ramos before upgrading the Bruce/Lagares dilemma.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 25, 2018 at 11:25 pm

      Metsense, I notice our comments overlap. I like your thinking about the first three weeks. But, what happens if Lagares is doing well? Last year in 64 plate appearances Lagares already had 1.0 bWAR. What if Lagares start on fire and stays that way? It’s a good problem, but now what? Does Alonso wait?

      To complicate it a bit more, what if Bruce isn’t doing well?

      • Metsense
        November 26, 2018 at 9:08 am

        If Alonso earns a spot after spring training then in 3 weeks the Mets should promote him and have him either start or just put in the mix to add depth. After 3 weeks they should evaluate the situation and dish out the playing time accordingly. Callaway likes to rest his players so it shouldn’t be a problem.

  9. TexasGusCC
    November 25, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    As someone who didn’t like 1) the acquisitions of Jay Bruce 2) how the Mets used Bruce (such as keep putting him in the #3 spot), I think the 2019 team as it stands needs him. Kipnis for Bruce is fine because with McNeil’s injury history – I don’t know that he can last all year and if he does that he will hit .329 again – but Kipnis can be insurance at second base if Flores is dealt. However, Bruce can be a better hitter than Kipnis if Bruce continues his September penchant for using the whole field. Bruce has shown the power to homer from left field to right field, and by using the whole field his production should rise while his homerun totals stay high.

    Too, Bruce needs to be in LF, where it’s a smaller area to cover (remember that the Mets claimed they kept Granny in right field because it was a bigger area than left field) thus easier to play, misplayed balls are doubles rather than triples and his good arm still plays.

    Lastly, Bruce needs to be at either #5 or #6 for this team to be successful. In those lineup slots, he won’t clog up the bases and his new approach to making contact will give him a plethora of RBI opportunities.

  10. November 26, 2018 at 1:31 am

    So I see no reference to Dominic Smith? What if he’s the one who hits and plays defense like many thought he was capable in ST? Why the effort to go so out of the way for Bruce? Are there not teams looking for corner outfielders? And if his 14 million or so salary is too high can’t the Coupons pay 4 million or so? Smith and Alonso at 1st base would be a cheaper more positive deal for the future of this franchise instead of constantly trying to put round plugs into square holes. Apply the savings to the pen. Hopefully the Mets new GM can make the moves that are needed and warranted rather than those that take continue the band aid garbage dumpster we as fans have suffered through these austere years

    • November 26, 2018 at 2:24 am

      Gus Bruce needs to be in the 5 or 6 hole on another team. Let’s give Smith and Alonso if he’s ready the chance to succeed.

  11. MattyMets
    November 27, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    My issue last off-season wasn’t signing Bruce or Frazier; it was signing Bruce and Frazier. Both filled obvious needs, but the overall effect of adding two streaky veterans like that weakened the team – especially since they both wound up getting hurt. I agree with this article that Bruce could still have a meaningful role, but I just don’t like having both him and Frazier in the lineup every day. Ideally, if Bruce were healthy and hitting behind a healthy Cespedes he’d have hit 30 homers as usual.

    Editor’s Note – Capitals, Matt, really?

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