The New York Mets signed Jay Bruce this past winter with hopes he’d stabilize the middle of manager Mickey Callaway’s order, but, the opposite has happened.
That awesome 12-2 start to the 2018 season by the New York Mets feels like it happened years ago, not last month.
Mickey Callaway‘s squad is heading to Atlanta for an important four-game series against the Braves with a 25-24 record, after losing three of four against the Milwaukee Brewers. Lots of things have been going wrong for the Mets lately, but an inconsistent offense has been a major culprit.
Fresh off posting a career-high in home runs (36) and his second-ever season of 100-plus RBI in 2017, Bruce has limped out to just three homers, 15 RBI, and an 86 wRC+ through his first 179 plate appearances. He’s has spent 21 games in the clean-up spot this year, an area the Mets have gotten virtually no production from. Their collective 56 wRC+ is the worst in baseball.
If New York wants to find some consistency in its offense, getting Bruce back on track needs to be a top priority. So, what’s going on?
Decent Process, Awful Results
It’s hard searching for positives when looking at Bruce’s season-long statistics, but there are some. An example is his 19 percent strikeout rate, which is on pace to be a new career-best mark.
Bruce has also seen his chase rate (29.3 percent) and swing rate on strikes (79.3 percent) flirt with career-best levels at this point in time. So the approach is sound, but the results haven’t really followed. His contact rate on strikes (82.4 percent) has stayed virtually the same, while his overall contact rate (73.4 percent) has decreased slightly.
On the surface, this isn’t the worst news. This becomes more of a problem when looking at the rest of Bruce’s batted-ball profile. His 40.2 percent fly-ball rate is a noticeable drop from 2017 (46.7 percent). While it’s translated to his 26.0 percent line-drive rate, it won’t do him any good with an 18.7 percent soft-hit rate and a 30.9 percent hard-hit rate.
Both of those would flirt with career-worst marks if the season ended today.
What Had Been Working
Why exactly did the Mets feel comfortable with making a three-year, $39 million commitment to Bruce this past winter? A familiarity with him and a need for proven offense was part of it, but a change in approach was another.
Bruce found out that when he pulls balls to right field in the air, awesome things tend to happen.
The change he made can easily be seen between his 2016 and 2017 splits. The below table shows how his fly-ball rate, home-run-to-fly-ball rate, soft-hit rate, and hard-hit rate all improved from one year to the next when he pulled the ball.
These changes only led to three more dingers, but he was a more productive hitter overall in 2017. His wRC+ went from 111 to 118, which is the highest it’s been since 2012 (120).
No Sight of it in 2018
As one can imagine, the positive changes Bruce made at the plate are nowhere to be found so far this year.
If we look at his fly-ball production on a macro level, he’s hitting them at just a 40.2 percent clip with a 20.0 percent soft-hit rate, and 34.0 percent hard-hit rate to boot (12.8 percent and 47.2 percent in 2017, respectively). This has all led to a .580 OPS (1.179 in ’17), .260 ISO (.632 in ’17), and a 52 wRC+ (196 in ’17) for this batted-ball event.
It’s just as bad if we drill it down solely to look at fly balls he’s pulling to right field. Bruce is pulling balls in the air just 27.6 percent of the time with a 44.8 percent hard-hit rate.
This isn’t exactly the kind of progress New York was hoping for after what he showed last year.
A Need to Change Things Quick
Reinforcements could be on their way in the near future with Frazier about to start a rehab assignment, and Cespedes potentially not far behind. However, if Bruce is going to remain an anchor for this lineup, he’ll need to start hitting like one.
Sunday was a good start, as he collected two hits, one RBI, and one run scored in an 8-7 loss to Milwaukee. Being on the road may be the best thing for him to get going, too — in 90 plate appearances at Citi Field so far this year, he’s produced just a 31 wRC+ and .048 ISO.
The Mets’ chances at contention will likely be strongly tied to how the pitching staff performs moving forward. If they continue to struggle, though, the offense will have to try and pick up some of the slack before it’s too late.
But, it may already be too late based off how the rest of the National League is performing. Nonetheless, now is a perfect time for Jay Bruce to see his revamped approach to reappear.