There are a lot of players not playing well for the Mets right now, but none of them are making as much money as Jay Bruce. The veteran outfielder will make $11 million this year and is under contract for two more seasons afterwards, so his struggles have been particularly distressing. If Bruce is hitting .216/.297/.327 with a 74 wRC+ right now, just what can we expect as he gets older in 2019 and 2020?
We should expect a better Bruce, and not just because it’s tough for a guy who has hit 69 home runs over the past two years to drop off this badly. Although the slugger is battling through plantar fasciitis, a condition that appears to be affecting how he moves around in the field, Bruce’s approach at the plate doesn’t appear to have taken a hit. He’s making more contact and walking more often in 2018 than he has in his previous Mets career, and he’s even hitting fewer of those pesky ground balls that were such an issue after the Mets first traded for him in 2016.
The problem is that the fly balls Bruce hits are falling short of the outfield wall this year, and that’s something that should change unless he’s lying about the plantar fasciitis not affecting him at the plate. Perhaps the foot condition is changing Bruce’s swing in a way that he’s not aware of, but more likely we’re just experiencing a bad two-month stretch.
A crowded outfield situation and the need for Dominic Smith to see major league pitching are both factors that call for Bruce to be in the lineup less often these days, but you can see why Mickey Callaway continues to find room for him. This is a player who has hit at least 25 home runs in seven of the last eight seasons, and in none of those did he make contact 80 percent of the time like he’s doing now. Only in 2014 did Bruce have power issues like he’s having now. During that campaign, he hit just 18 home runs with a .156 isolated power.
Bruce is on pace right now to hit even fewer home runs than he did back then, but his recent play — no multi-strikeout games since May 28, a big RBI double against Atlanta on Tuesday night — suggest that he’s closer than ever to getting back into a power-hitting groove. As does the fact that he’s found a way to strike out less often during an era in which new strikeout records are made every year.
In short, the batting approach that Bruce has shown this year backs up the Mets’ willingness to sign him to a three-year deal over the winter. The only thing missing from his game is the power that has come so naturally to him since he first broke into the big leagues. The odds are good that it will show up sooner rather than later.