Indians Lose Michael Brantley, Add Jay Bruce by Dave Cameron August 10, 2017 It was an eventful 24 hours for the Cleveland Indians outfield. On Tuesday, left fielder Michael Brantley sprained his ankle in a game against the Colorado Rockies, so Wednesday, the team put him on the disabled list and promptly traded for his replacement, Jay Bruce. Because Bruce cleared waivers last week, the transaction was fairly straightforward. The Mets already knew they weren’t going to get much for him, as every team in baseball passed on taking on the remaining $4 million of his contract. So when Cleveland suddenly needed an outfielder, it represented a chance for the Mets to at least save some money while also freeing up playing time for Dominic Smith at first base. In exchange for assuming responsibility for the remainder of Bruce’s contract this year, Cleveland surrendered just RHP Ryder Ryan, a player so notable that this is the first time his name has ever been mentioned on the site. Here’s what you need to know about Ryan: he was a 30th-round pick in the 2016 draft and is pitching in relief in A-ball as a 22-year-old. This trade isn’t exactly like the Indians claiming Bruce on waivers and the Mets just letting him go, but it’s basically that. So, Cleveland now has Jay Bruce to add to their outfield mix. Swapping him in for Brantley isn’t really any kind of upgrade, but it at least keeps the status quo going until Brantley returns. If the injury turns out not to be serious, Bruce should give them a better option in right field than they had previously — especially if Bruce keeps hitting more like he has in 2017 and less like did in years past. Bruce’s current 121 wRC+ is actually the second-highest mark of his career, bested only by the 124 wRC+ he put up back in 2010. The last few years, he’s been more of an average-ish hitter; without much defensive value, that’s not great. But Bruce has upped his game this year by doing what all the cool kids are doing: elevate and celebrate. Presented here are Bruce’s career results and 2017 on each batted-ball type, and his frequency of batted-ball types for both his career and 2017 as well. Results on and Frequency of Batted-Ball Types for Jay Bruce Time Period wRC+ on GB wRC+ on LD wRC+ on FB Career 23 358 188 2017 12 367 193 Time Period GB% LD% FB% Career 38% 20% 42% 2017 32% 20% 48% Results wise, Bruce hasn’t really improved in any meaningful way, his wRC+ on every batted-ball type this year closely approximating his career averages. However, he’s managed to trade six percentage points of ground-ball rate for fly-ball rate, and given that he’s far more productive when he hits fly balls, he’s been better than he was previously. This isn’t an accident. Bruce talked openly about trying to do this before the season even began. Consider the following passage from a piece by James Wagner for the New York Times. He said coaches told him to hit the ball to left field, which would perhaps lead to a higher average. But advanced metrics helped Bruce understand that was not his strength. “You have to recognize what your strong swing is,” Bruce said. “Listen, I’m not going up there trying to yank the ball into the seats. I’m trying to stay in the big part of the field. But my best swing is to right-center. So what balls can I hit to right-center?” To do that, Bruce looks at heat maps that show how hard he hits the ball, a statistic known as exit velocity, based on the area of the strike zone the pitch is in. He studies what pitches he has most often chased out of the strike zone. He also evaluates the path of his bat, known as launch angle, to see if he is producing the right amount of lift. “There’s absolutely nothing for you on the ground to the pull side,” he said. “That’s just death to the baseball. So what balls am I hitting there?” … One of the areas highlighted for improvement: “If I didn’t hit a ground ball all year, I’d be in good shape,” he said. While Bruce knows that will be impossible, he is setting his sights high and shooting for a 50 percent fly ball rate. His career number is about 42 percent, close to his 2016 mark. His highest was 48.5 percent in 2009. An improved launch angle may help. He’s not quite at 50% fly balls yet, but he’s close, and the realization that ground balls are evil has helped make Bruce a better hitter. So, while there’s obviously some remaining skepticism about Bruce’s overall value within the game, there’s probably some merit to Cleveland’s hope that he might not regress as far as the projections think. So, yeah, this is a nice little move for the AL Central leaders. It’s not like that $4 million was likely to be allocated for anything else the baseball-operations department could use, and it’s nice to see a mid-market team take on salary rather than surrender more talent for cash savings. So in the midst of a pennant race, the Indians got better at no real cost to the franchise beyond a slightly smaller annual profit for the team. Given that MLB just sold another 42% of BAMTech to Disney for $1 billion the other day, I’m sure they’ll be just fine. For the Mets, they clear up a logjam of corner infielders that had already pushed Bruce to first base, an unfamiliar position, and can now easily promote Smith to take his place and audition for the 2018 job down the stretch. They also avoid the temptation of making Bruce a qualifying offer, which would have been a bad idea. Sure, perhaps they should have agreed to pay his salary in order to get a better prospect in return before the deadline, but it’s not clear anyone was actually willing to surrender any real prospects for rental hitters this year, so at least this way they stop blocking their young players from getting everyday at-bats.