Jay Bruce (…?)

The Yankees and Jay Bruce have come to an agreement on a minor league deal.

My first question is “Why?”

I know the answer is going to be some form of “low risk, high reward” but only one of those things is true. Any reward that comes from Bruce will be much lower than most people realize and the Yankees would simply be better off coming to an agreement with Brett Gardner or giving 200 PA to an lefty bat in their system.

Jay Bruce is not, nor has ever been, the power lefty slugger that he’s been portrayed to be. He posted a career high 124 OPS+ (eleven years ago) and followed that with OPS+ of 121 and 120 the following two seasons. To be clear, an OPS+ of better than 120 is very good – if you’re a slick fielding middle infielder – if you’re a corner outfielder and DH, you’re going to need to do better than that. And again, that was Bruce at his best, which was years ago.

Since then his OPS+ has been below league average in four of the past seven seasons. When we add it all up his career OPS+ comes in a little better than league average at 108 – very similar to the numbers posted by Neil Walker (109) and Chris Davis (106) in their careers.

As a result of middling offensive production and playing corner outfield (and not doing that particularly well), Bruce has accumulated 3.4 WAR total over the past seven seasons. Brett Gardner has averaged 3.4 WAR over the past seven seasons.

“But the roster spot is essentially for a part time left handed bat with some power…” you may say.

OK. Let’s forget WAR, base running and defense and just look at offense, particularly against right handed pitching.

Over the past two seasons, here are Bruce’s and Gardner’s OPS+ vs. righties:

2019
Gardner 134
Bruce 100

2020
Gardner 118
Bruce 116

Gardner isn’t just a better all-around player than Bruce, he’s a better left handed bat, especially versus right handed pitching.

I know, I know, “luxury tax threshold”. Fine, even though Gardner will only cost a little more than Bruce, if you want to play the luxury tax card then just give 200 PA to someone with a left handed bat in the system. If that doesn’t work out, it really doesn’t matter – as we’ve discussed here previoulsy, the Yankees have led MLB in runs per game since 2019 so the entire “they need a left handed bat” conversation is a silly one before it even gets started.

As usual, I hope I’m wrong – but I doubt it.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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