08 December 2014

Should the Orioles Trade for Jay Bruce?

With both Markakis and Cruz going elsewhere in free agency, it should come as no surprise that the Orioles have made outfield their top priority.  A month ago I recommended that the Orioles attempt to trade or non-tender De Aza and sign Aoki and that's still a possibility. But recently people have suggested that the Orioles try to trade for Jay Bruce. The Toronto Sun claims that the Reds would be willing to trade him for a few inexpensive major league players. Would Jay Bruce be a good option for this Orioles club?

At first glance, Jay Bruce looks like he could help our offense. He was solid offensively from 2010-2013 with a wRC+ in the 117 to 124 range or about 20% above average. But in 2014 he had a horrendous year offensively with only a wRC+ of 79. Defense metrics indicate that his defense is about average. His sum UZR over the past three years is -.6. He is probably slightly below average although he did have a strong defensive season in 2013 when he was the Reds’ winner of the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jay Bruce will be 28 years old at the start of the 2015 season and becomes a free agent after the 2016 season. A team that trades for him will receive two years of his prime at a total cost of $25 million.

It makes sense to take a more in depth look. Let’s start with his walk rate and strikeout rate. In 2010 and 2011, Bruce had a 10% walk rate. In 2012 and 2013, he had a walk rate over 9%. In 2014, his walk rate dropped to 8%. This seems to indicate that his walk rate is regressing over time. His unintentional walk rate shows a similar trend. From 2010-2012 he had about an 8.5% unintentional walk rate. In 2013 and 2014 he had an unintentional walk rate of 7.1%. This seems to indicate that his walk rate has really started to regress over the past two years. The only reason why his 2013 and 2014 walk numbers are different is because pitchers didn’t intentionally walk him as often in 2014 as they did in 2013. This is probably because he had a poor year in 2014. His strikeout rate tells the same story. From 2010-2012 his average K% was 24%. In 2013 and 2014 his average K% was about 27%. It seems that he's walking less and striking out more.

His plate discipline stats explain this trend. From 2010-2012 his swinging strike rate was nearly 12% but in 2013 and 2014 his swinging strike rate was about 13.8%. It is also worrisome that from 2010-2013 his O-Swing% was roughly 29% but in 2014 it was 33% while his Z-Swing% was 74% from 2010-2013 but only 69% in 2014. These statistics indicate that he’s not making contact as often as he once did and as a result his walk rate is decreasing while his strikeout rate is increasing. It’s possible that this is simply a two year fluke but it is a red flag.

The next thing to look at is his power. From 2010-2012 his FB% was roughly 45%. He had a 39.4% FB% in 2013 and a 34% FB% in 2014 while his HR/FB rate has stayed consistent over the entire sample. He did hit 30 HRs in 2013 but he also had 697 PAs. If we normalize his PAs to 600 from 2010 to 2014 then he would have hit 26 HRs in 2010, 29 in 2011, 32 in 2012, 26 in 2013 and 20 in 2014. Going forward, I expect him to be a 20-25 HR hitter instead of a 30 HR hitter. This may seem like a small loss of power but is definitely another red flag.

He doesn’t do particularly well when he hits balls into play either. From 2011 to 2014 he had a BABIP of .297, .283, .322 and .269. His 2013 number is the clear outlier and suggests that he was simply lucky that year. It also suggests that his BABIP is regressing as he gets older but that it was never very good to begin with. I would expect him to have a BABIP that’s certainly below .300 in 2015 and probably in the .270-.280 range.

If Jay Bruce had a more reasonable BABIP of .288 in 2013 then he would likely have 14 fewer hits of which 9 would be singles and 5 would be doubles. If so, his offensive line would have been .240/.308/.447 instead of .262/.329/.478. Steamer predicts him to hit .239/.313/.441 with a wRC+ of 106 and a BABIP of .285 in 2015.

Jay Bruce had a terrible 2014 and I expect him to have a better 2015. But I also think that there’s some regression in his performance and there are certainly a number of red flags. It's worth noting that Fake Teams came to the same conclusion. I see him putting up a .230/.300/.410 line with slightly below average defense. With 2 years and $25M remaining and given that he's still in his prime, Bruce may be worth his contract but wouldn't be worth a few major league pieces.

The Orioles need to add someone to make up for the losses of their outfield. But Jay Bruce has a number of warning flags and likely won't be as effective as he was in the past. It would be a mistake to give up anything of value in return for Jay Bruce.


Aaaaaron said...

I don't think the O's need any more low-OBP power hitters, what they need is a leadoff hitter. Having Weiters and Machado healthy and hopefully getting rebound seasons from Davis and Hardy should more than offset the loss of Cruz's power. Aoki could be a good fit, but I'm not sure De Aza or Lough can get on base enough to lead off.

Matt Perez said...

Good point that even if Bruce bounces back he still doesn't fit the needs of the club. I was more focusing on his red flags but that's important to consider also.

Even if you subtract Cruz's home runs from the 2014 Os, we'd still rank #3 in the majors. Agreed that we have lots of power even without Cruz or any of those conditions.

Agree that Lough and De Aza aren't ideal leadoff hitters.

Philip said...

Another insightful write, thank you.
Regarding lead off, why can't De Aza or Lough lead off? Of course, Lough didn't hit well last year, but the year before he did. And he has a good eye and is very fast.
De Aza hit lousy with the Sox, but quite well with the Orioles. I don't know how good his eye is, but he also has speed.
What's the knock on them?
Or are you assuming that neither will hit well enough?
And conversely, who is available as FA or through trade, who IS a good lead off possibility?
Your article about Michael Saunders sold me on him, and I was disappointed when he went to Toronto. Hope we're not disappointed again this winter.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think De Aza would be OK as a leadoff option against right-handed pitching. But not against lefties. Lough is fast, but he doesn't get on base often enough to be a leadoff hitter.

Matt Perez said...

Neither get on base often. Lough didn't have a good offensive year in the majors last year and I don't trust him against lefties. I would rather have them in the #9 spot.

I'm still an Aoki fan and think he can lead off. But I agree that it doesn't seem like there are so many remaining options.

Pat Holden said...

De Aza was awful against LHP last season, but his career wRC+ of 85 against them isn't much lower than the 93 Markakis posted last season.

Pat Holden said...

P.S. De Aza for President

Anonymous said...

An outfield of Pearce, Jones, De Aza, and Lough will be fine. Trade for Scott Van Slyke to DH

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Whether we like it or not, there is basically no chance the O's go into spring training with those four as their main outfielders. They're going to sign or trade for someone.

Bill Brooks said...

The acquisition of Nelson Cruz last year cut into the playing time of David Lough. With the loss of both Cruz and Markakis, I would like to see David Lough lead off. From watching him last year, he seemed to try to hard or force things to impress the coaches and management. If he is given a position, he might relax and blossom. He could be a contact hitter which is something the Orioles need. His speed on the base paths could put pressure on opposing pitches. It might be a similar situation to Brady Anderson when Oates made him the regular left fielder after initially sputtering

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I like Lough. He's very good defensively, and he's fast. But he has a .308 OBP and he's 28 years old. He's not a blossoming prospect. He could be helpful, but I'm not sure why the Orioles would plan to start the season with him as their leadoff hitter.

Dean said...

What about our own minor league system? If we stick with Jones, De Aza, Lough and PEarce in the outfield, is there anyone ready to work in to the lineup?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Dariel Alvarez appears to be the only outfield possibility in the O's system at the moment, and that might not be until later this year or beyond.

Anonymous said...

I had been a big Jay Bruce fan in fantasy and noticed the same trends discussed here before 2014 and would also advise not going there.

Look, not a fan of D Lough leading off or being on the field. Reminds me of days when we would say in LF the Red Sox have Manny and we have B Fahey.

Please lets dont go there.

Marlon Byrd looks like a very reasonable (for this market) target for some form of minor league asset.

Maybe Brach, Berry, Drake, Wright (controllable arm) for Byrd.

Matt Perez said...

I think I'd stay away from Byrd. He makes sense but his FB% from 2010 to 2012 was around 28% and it jumped to 38% in 2013 and 2014. His HR/FB rate went from about 6% from 2010 to 2012 to 16% in 2013 and 2014.

He's had an huge power boost at 36. That's ... interesting.

Anonymous said...

Bruce was suffering from an injury all year confirmed by his manager.

He's a much better ballplayer than last year indicated. think you underestimate his potential for two years.

Matt Perez said...

He's clearly a better player than last year indicated. Last year Bruce put up a .217/.281/.373 line good for a wRC+ of 79. I predicted a considerably better line of .230/.300/.410. Figure that's about an average wRC+. That's significant improvement from last years campaign.

He had his injury in May and claimed that he was back in June. I'm sure he wasn't fully healthy... but that's the life of a baseball player.

Anonymous said...

Nailed it.