Quick Thoughts on the Jay Bruce Signing
By Patrick Gunn
The Yankees reportedly signed left-handed power hitter Jay Bruce to a minor league contract yesterday. The outfielder, age 33, has been a consistent threat to hit homers throughout his career, starting in Cincinnati and going through New York, Cleveland, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
Yankees fans have been pining for left-handed thump, and Bruce would be a better option than much of the Yankees’ current bench (with all due respect for Mike Ford and Tyler Wade stans). The Yankees should have signed a better overall player than Bruce, but for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training he’s worth the signing.
Here are my quick thoughts on the ramifications of this signing:
BRUCE THEN AND NOW:
Jay Bruce has had a mixed career, with high strikeout totals to go along with his power. His best best stretch of baseball came from 2010-2013, when he averaged a 121 OPS+ with a .489 slugging percentage and on average 120 wRC+.
Bruce has matched that four-season run in spurts, including a great first half with the Reds in 2016 and a solid 2017, but much of his value comes from his offense. He has a negative career defensive WAR that’s just -1.7 over the past three seasons. He’s a bat-first player who probably will only play seven to eight innings per game in the outfield.
Bruce has maintained an exit velocity around 89 since 2015 despite a fluctuating barrel percentage, and he had a 43.7% hard hit percentage in 2019. This is to say that Bruce can still hit the ball decently hard, and his pull stroke should help the Yankees against right-handed pitching. His slugs .419 against lefties, but the Yankees have enough right-handed power to keep Bruce from facing southpaws. Also, Bruce has struck out 23.6% of the time with a declining walk rate, so much of his value comes from his pop specifically.
Bruce is coming off a down 2020 (83 wRC+), but he still posted a .469 slugging percentage and a .271 ISO. Plus, he had a BABIP of .197 which is unsustainably low (his career BABIP is .246), so even if he faces the shift in a majority of his at-bats, Bruce should have some positive regression in that department. So, it’s a little surprising that Bruce could not get a guaranteed Major League contract.
THE GARDNER EFFECT:
It’s hard to say what this means for the Yankees signing Brett Gardner, as Bruce is just reportedly getting signed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. The Yankees could potentially sign both players but having both and Mike Tauchman makes the Yankees’ bench redundant in terms of left-handed bench pieces. It ain’t over ‘till it’s over, but Gardner may be playing elsewhere next season.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS:
Overall, Bruce is a solid signing for the Yankees especially for just $1.35 million if he makes the team out of camp. He has been a consistent power hitter for the last decade and helps the Yankees in a place of need. He’s is going to struggle in the outfield, and potentially losing Brett Gardner will hurt both team morale and defense in the outfield. Regardless, minor league signings are low risk high reward moves, and Bruce helps build the Yankees’ lineup depth in adding a proven left-handed power bat.