When Jay Bruce debuted with the Reds, he was the highest prospect in baseball. Our very personal Kevin Goldstein projected him as a perennial All-Star, writing that he might be a “true celebrity within the mildew of Larry Walker.” He debuted as a 21-year-old and went 3-3 with two walks in his first recreation. Three days later, he had 4 hits and scored the successful run. He topped that off with a walk-off homer, his first dinger within the huge leagues, the next night time. Over the subsequent two days he went 4-7 with two extra homers, decreasing his batting common to .577. As Bruce’s heroics mounted and his legend grew, you needed to surprise how anybody may presumably reside as much as this sort of begin.
Bruce didn’t, in fact. His bat cooled significantly over the summer season and he ended the 12 months with 0.8 WAR and a fifth-place end in Rookie of the Yr voting, a number of slots behind Joey Votto. However whereas Bruce’s numbers fell a bit wanting his prospect league billing, he nonetheless blossomed into an excellent major-league participant. Over 14 seasons, Bruce hit 319 homers, gained two Silver Sluggers, made three All-Star appearances, and accrued precisely 20 WAR.
It’s a profession price celebrating, and now’s the time to take action, because the 34-year-old Bruce introduced his retirement yesterday. After an damage to Luke Voit, Bruce made the Yankees Opening Day roster and began the workforce’s first eight video games at first base. He didn’t hit a lick although, and he quickly fell out of supervisor Aaron Boone’s plans. He informed Boone of his intention to retire earlier than Friday’s recreation in opposition to Tampa Bay however stayed on the roster all through the weekend for a number of extra days in case he was wanted. On his method out, he echoed fellow Yankee luminary Joe DiMaggio on his resolution to name it quits at a comparatively younger age:
“The explanation I in the end selected to do it is because over 13 years of taking part in just about each single day, I set a normal of what I anticipated out of myself from a efficiency standpoint… in the end, I simply felt like I couldn’t carry out on the stage that I anticipated out of myself.”
The Reds took Bruce out of highschool with the twelfth total decide in a loaded 2005 draft. At a time when most gamers, particularly highschool draftees, didn’t signal for a pair months, Bruce put pen to paper rapidly and tore by means of brief season ball later that summer season. He captured MVP honors within the Midwest League a 12 months later and established himself as the sport’s premier prospect after batting .319/.375/.587 with 26 homers throughout three ranges in 2007. We weren’t calling it wage suppression again in 2008 when the Reds despatched him again to Louisville the next spring, however in any case, whereas marinating there because the Reds waited for the Tremendous Two deadline (unsuccessfully, it turned out), he whetted everybody’s urge for food by hitting .364/.393/.630 in 49 video games. Referred to as up in late Could, Bruce hit the bottom operating.
However after his torrid first week within the huge leagues, Bruce began to battle a bit. He barely managed a .700 OPS the remainder of the best way, placing out in 26% of his plate appearances. That sounds quaint nowadays, however again then solely seven gamers struck out extra ceaselessly. Bruce appreciated to swing early, and he was simply lured out of the zone. Collectively these proclivities threatened to derail his ascension to stardom.
In the end he fought them to a draw, making sufficient onerous contact to hit in the course of the order at the same time as he whiffed and flew out too usually to grow to be an MVP candidate. In the meantime, Bruce’s velocity and defensive versatility additionally waned early. The Reds stopped utilizing him in middle after his rookie 12 months, and whereas he got here up as an above-average runner, he was by no means actually a menace on the bases. As a substitute of the well-rounded participant many evaluators projected he’d grow to be, Bruce become one thing of a one-dimensional bopper. Years earlier than “launch angle” entered our vernacular, he steepened the aircraft on his swing and have become a low-BABIP, fly ball hitter. That ruined his probabilities of ever hitting .300, however he did membership 30 homers 5 instances and hit at the least 20 in 9 of his first 10 seasons.
If there’s a broader lesson to take from Bruce’s profession, it’s the constraints of the growth/bust framework used to categorise a participant’s efficiency. We have a tendency to recollect those who flip into both Mike Trout or Brandon Wood, however clearly most prime farmhands settle in between these poles. A midpoint profession on that spectrum appears to be like rather a lot like what Bruce managed to perform: he’s not headed to Cooperstown, however for the higher a part of a decade, Bruce was a first-division common, and alongside the best way he sprinkled in a number of All-Star seasons. That’s a extremely good profession, and it needs to be greater than sufficient to get him into the Reds Corridor of Fame.
Even relative to the lofty expectations he arrived with, Bruce’s numbers have been in all probability higher than you assume. To start with, 20 WAR is a wonderful return from the the No. 12 total decide in a draft. Of the 57 gamers taken in that slot, solely 12 have generated 10 WAR or extra. Bruce has the seventh-highest determine of the group, and amongst lively gamers, solely Yasmani Grandal is anywhere near him.
Slender the standards to extra unique territory and Bruce nonetheless holds up fairly effectively. In 2014, FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine calculated the common WAR complete for every slot in Baseball America’s prime 100 prospect lists. It’s clearly an inexact science, however BA has been doing these lists for a number of many years now, so the pattern is giant sufficient to at the least be attention-grabbing. And wouldn’t you recognize, Paine discovered that the No. 1 total prospect has averaged 20 WAR on the dot.
Bruce additionally left a number of marks in baseball historical past. In 2010, he clinched Cincinnati’s first division crown in 15 years with a no-doubter out to middle:
Seven years later and some hours to the north, Bruce’s extra-inning double accomplished Cleveland’s dramatic comeback in opposition to Kansas Metropolis because the membership prolonged the longest successful streak in American League historical past to 22 video games:
After asserting his retirement, Bruce was requested about what was subsequent for him, and whether or not he’d be concerned within the recreation in any method. He gave a real seamhead’s reply:
“So far as baseball goes, I really like baseball. I adore it. Anybody who is aware of me is aware of that I’m such an enormous fan of baseball. I all the time have been. I am going dwelling at night time and I watch baseball. And a few individuals assume that’s loopy. Some individuals assume it’s superior. Who is aware of?”
We predict it’s superior too, Jay. Hope to see you round on the opposite aspect.