Jay Bruce's one hit, one walk line against the Cubs on Thursday was, in a vacuum, not a bad night. But it was just another in a long line of powerless performances, bringing his season OPS to .659 -- his lowest mark since an injury-riddled 2014. Signed through 2020, the Mets badly need Bruce to pick up the pace, so what is holding him back?
In many respects, much of what Bruce is doing in 2018 is little different from his excellent 2017. His walk rate, moderately above league average, has held steady. And he has even shaved a few points off his strikeout rate -- something he frequently struggled with earlier in his career. His batting average on balls in play, never particularly high because of his fly-ball approach, is almost identical to last year's. So how is it that his batting average and on base percentage have both tumbled more than 20 points?
The answer is the complete evaporation of his power swing. Over his career, Bruce has averaged 31 home runs per 162 games played, but in 2018 he is on pace for only nine. Overall, he is expected to fall 21 extra-base hits short of last year's total.
A good measure of a home run hitter's prowess is home run per fly ball rate -- in this era of elevating the ball, how often does it go out? In 2017, 18.5 percent of Bruce's fly balls left the park, an improvement from a career mark that was already well-above the 12.5% league average. But in 2018, that number has cratered to just 5.5 percent -- the lowest of his career by a wide margin.
Bruce is generally approaching the ball in the same way, even seeing it slightly better than in the past, and making consistent contact. But that contact is weaker than ever before. His soft contact rate is the highest since his debut year, and his hard contact rate is one of the lowest.
What explanation could there be for such a drastic drop-off in power?
With no clear indicator that Bruce has been unlucky, the first thing to consider is always injury. Early in the season, he and the team made the choice to have him play through plantar fasciitis. This is not an unusual approach for players dealing with the condition, characterized as inflammation of the foot. But if Bruce is finding it difficult to brace against his back leg to generate power, it could be a major component of the problem.
Age may also be working against Bruce, which would certainly be bad news for a team depending on him to be a long-term contributor. Early 30's is a fairly standard time for sluggers to start to show a real decline. And while sudden drop-offs after a healthy, productive season are not the norm, it's also not unheard of. An increase in strikeouts usually accompanies the slow bat that comes with the back end of the aging curve, so the fact that Bruce isn't seeing that yet should give some hope that this isn't the new normal just yet.
Whatever the true cause, likely some combination of lingering injury, aging, and the kind of cold snap that most power hitters go through at least a few times a season, the Mets are in trouble if their defensively-challenged corner outfielder/sometime first baseman is giving them so little power. And unfortunately, they lack the strong record that would give them the luxury of letting him playing through it as well as the depth that would let them bench him. It's just a waiting game at this point -- one they desperately need him to come out on top of.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring