Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez: Twin Trade Chips

The market has moved forward as we approach the trading deadline, but its shape is still difficult to make out, especially in terms of hitters. We have seen the mega-deal, with franchise cornerstone Troy Tulowitzki moving from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays. We have seen the rental, with Ben Zobrist helping the already strong Kansas City Royals. There appear to be solid outfielders remaining on the market, including Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Gerardo Parra all available as rentals. Even so, it still looks to be a sellers’ market on the hitting side. The Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies are in a decent position to move two hitters, neither of whom are rentals nor franchise cornerstones. Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez are remarkably similar players and both could provide a jolt of offense for a team needing help this season and in the future.

Both Bruce and Gonzalez were called up to majors in 2008, and while Gonzalez has played some center field, both are good-hitting corner outfielders. Both are left-handed hitters with platoon splits that make them just good enough to hit everyday. Both have contracts lasting potentially through 2017, with Bruce carrying a reasonable $13 million team option in 2017 after a $12.5 million salary in 2016 and Gonzalez owed $37 million over the next two years. In addition to being cheaper, Bruce is also slightly younger, at 28, compared to the 29-year-old Gonzalez. In Gonzalez’s favor is slightly better production over the course of their respective careers. Their career lines are below.

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR OFF DEF WAR
Carlos Gonzalez 3471 .292 .349 .520 120 20 101 -14 20.5
Jay Bruce 4343 .252 .325 .468 111 9 62 -19 18.6

Even factoring in Coors Field, Gonzalez has been the better hitter than Bruce, who plays in a decent hitters’ park himself. The pair have both been adequate on defense while losing some overall value due to the negative positional adjustment produced by a corner-outfield spot. Gonzalez has been the better runner, as well, but Bruce has closed the gap in overall value by staying healthy and recording nearly 1,000 more plate appearances than Gonzalez. They have accumulated their WAR in a very similar manner, though, both breaking out in 2010 and having very good years in 2013 before experiencing major struggles last season. Their cumulative WAR chart below is remarkable for the singular progression between the two players.

CARLOS GONZALEZ AND JAY BRUCE- CUMULATIVE WAR

A relatively short time ago, Gonzalez’s contract was viewed as one of the very best in baseball, but injuries and his struggles last season have cratered his value. Plagued by injuries, Gonzalez received just 281 plate appearances in 2014 and hit .238/.292/.431 with a wRC+ of 83 — his first below-average season with the Rockies — and was actually below replacement-level last season. He continued to look very poor at the beginning of this season, heading into June with a .219/.296/.331 line to go along with four home runs and a 60 wRC+. It look as though the Rockies might have to pay some team to take him if it wanted salary relief.

Eno Sarris pointed out that Gonzalez might have been a bit unlucky, but not unlucky enough to completely explain away his poor numbers. Gonzalez has been on fire since the beginning of June, however, providing hope for the next late-20s slugger who looks like he might be finished. Over the last two months, Gonzalez has hit 16 homers with a .327/.364/.684 line, producing a 169 wRC+ during that time period. He has not reproduced the speed that gave him four consecutive 20-steal seasons from 2010 to 2013, but his overall hitting line is a solid .275/.331/.514 with a 115 wRC+ this year.

Jay Bruce’s contract, a six-year and $51 million deal with an option for a seventh season, never profiled as the same sort of bargain as Gonzalez’s, but also looked to be a team-friendly deal before a disastrous 2014 hurt his value. Bruce went through some injury problems early on in 2014, having his knee repaired surgically, and his season never got off the ground. After four seasons averaging a 120 wRC+ and nearly four WAR per season, Bruce hit just .217/.281/.373 for a 79 wRC+ and, like Gonzalez, a below replacement-level season. Bruce, again, like Gonzalez, started off this season slowly, possessing a .162/.272/.333 line in the middle of May. Bruce’s leg injury last season might have affected his power, as he previously discussed with Eno Sarris:

For Bruce, the legs impaired his ability to use his hands best. “The legs are really what deliver your hands to the zone in the correct path,” he said. When your legs are no good, your hands find a way to get to the ball, and usually cut corners that shouldn’t be cut.

What happens is that you can’t stay down on your back leg, because it hurts. “You come up out of your legs and create an around-the-ball plane rather than being able to stay connected to your back side and hit through the baseball to the big part of the field,” Bruce explained.

Bruce has had a slower ascent to normalcy than Gonzalez, improving gradually every month. His seasonal numbers are now right in line with his 2010-2013 seasons. He features a solid .257/.342/.480 and 123 wRC+ heading into the final two months of the season.

Projections for the rest of the season are also fairly similar for the two players, although ZiPS seems much more sure that Bruce is back to his normal self than Steamer does while the Gonzalez projections line up pretty well. Aggregating the two projections systems using the FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections, the two players produce the following:

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Carlos Gonzalez 252 .282 .343 .515 119 1.2
Jay Bruce 229 .250 .325 .460 113 1.0

Both players would be a big help to a team both (a) looking for a bat down the stretch, but also (b) not wanting to pay an exorbitant amount for a rental. Gonzalez has the better overall track record, but his contract calls for more guaranteed money and he’s been less than durable over the past few seasons. Bruce, the younger, cheaper option with significantly less in guaranteed money, should be more valuable than Gonzalez, but for both players, their trade value might not ever get any higher than it is right now. Upton and Cespedes are available, but with the number of teams contending, there are not enough impact bats to go around. Both the Rockies and Reds have indicated through the trades of Troy Tulowitzki and Johnny Cueto that they are in a rebuilding mode. Moving these two strangely similar outfielders could produce a better package of prospects than the stars those teams already moved.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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steven Q Urkel
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steven Q Urkel

Cargo has to be the most overrated player in sports history not named Iverson. Would this guy even be average without Coors field?

Dubs
Guest
Dubs

I would think a 120 wRC+ would say he’s been about 20% better than average.

steven Q Urkel
Guest
steven Q Urkel

He is thought of as a superstar. he is inversion

ncb
Member
Member
ncb

considering wRC+ and WAR are park corrected, the answer to your question is yes.

steven Q Urkel
Guest
steven Q Urkel

Dude has like a career 780 road OPS. He should give half of his salary to charity

Cicero
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Cicero

So did Wade Boggs

Matt
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Matt

When did .780 OPS become a bad OPS number. That number would rank him 31st in the MLB this season, nothing to scoff at.

francis
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francis

Yeah, “in history” is a really high bar to clear. What is with people throwing this term out so loosely these days ?

Sabertooth
Guest
Sabertooth

They throw it around more now than ever before.