Reader Week: Will Bruce Bust Out?

We all know the book on Jay Bruce’s big upside. His AB/HR rate last season was right up there with the likes of Adam Dunn. However, his ability to hit for AVG at the big league level is still in question.
To this point in 2010, Bruce is hitting .259/.351/.466 with four home runs. The AVG is low, which was somewhat expected, but the four home runs seem low given his potential in that category.
More power may be on the way.

Last season Bruce had an astoundingly low .221 BABIP. However, that number can be explained by two facts. One, only 13 percent of Bruce’s balls in play were classified as line drives, thus suppressing his BABIP. Two, 22 of Bruce’s 77 hits were home runs (almost 28 percent) and home runs do not count toward BABIP as they are not technically in play. This season Bruce’s BABIP is at .310 with a 23 percent line drive rate, yet he’s only hitting .259.

Even though Bruce is hitting more line drives over 50 percent of hit balls have been fly balls and 18.8 percent have been classified as infield fly balls, the worst kind of fly balls as they turn into outs almost every time. The good thing is that such a high infield fly ball rate is likely to regress sooner or later. Last season, not a single Major League hitter held an infield fly rate over 18 percent, not even Yuniesky Betancourt (17.6 percent). Bruce’s infield fly rate last season was only 7.6 percent.
As far as plate discipline goes, Bruce has been fine. He’s striking out at a rate acceptable for a slugger and taking enough walks to keep his OBP in good standing. But fantasy owner’s didn’t draft Bruce to hit for AVG and mediocre power.
Why such a low home run total for a hitter with a career 17.7 AB/HR rate before this season? Can we blame a low 12.5 HR/FB rate (20.2 in 2008 and 16.8 in 2009)? Nope. Sure, Bruce has been hitting just as many fly balls, but as stated above, 18.8 percent have been of the infield variety. This is both good and bad. Good because it is likely that Bruce will see a regression in infield flies and hit more deep flies that have a chance to turn into home runs. Bad because so far it has been suppressing his home run output.
The bottom line with Bruce is that he has a ton of power, but inconsistencies that hold back his potential a little. Until he learns to hit left-handed pitching with more consistency and make a bit better contact, the AVG is likely to top out at .275 or so. However, the only thing holding back his power numbers is weak fly balls to the infield. Once Bruce starts driving the ball more, which he is very likely to do, the home run rate should shoot up.
There is still a very realistic chance that, if he can stay healthy, Jay Bruce will get enough at-bats to still hit around 30 home runs in 2010.