Jay Bruce’s May Surge

After a slow first month of the season – in which he hit .237/.306/.381 – Jay Bruce is absolutely on fire in the month of May. Even though Joe Pawlikowski recently wrote about the difficulty involved in evaluating Bruce’s season, we’re going to take a deeper look into Bruce’s current surge. During the month of May, Bruce has hit .337/.400/.721 with 9 home runs. There’s no doubt that Bruce has been spectacular as of late, but what (if anything) is behind Bruce’s latest surge, and is it sustainable?

Bruce has always been a player projected to develop big power, yet his career high in home runs over a full season is “only” 25. That’s not a necessarily a knock on Bruce, but it seems as if his power has always left people wanting more. If this surge is more than just a hot streak, it’s possible that Bruce will finally live up to his billing as an elite power hitter.

At the same time, this surge has happened over such a short period, so we have to be skeptical before we draw any strong conclusions. While Bruce’s nine home runs over 95 plate appearances is certainly impressive, he has been through streaks like this before. The most comparable streak probably came at the conclusion of 2010, when Bruce hit 15 home runs in just 153 at-bats. On top of that streak, Bruce has one other month in which he clubbed 9 home runs, and two instances where he was able to hit 7 home runs in one month. So while his current power surge is encouraging, it’s unlikely Bruce will be able to sustain it for all that long. He’s just experiencing another hot month. So what, if anything, is behind Bruce’s latest surge?

For one, Bruce has lowered his strikeout rate from 27.8 to 19.8 in May. The lowered strikeout rate has likely led to increased contact and walks for Bruce, leading to his ridiculous slash line over the month. While his .333 BABIP for the month of May seems high, there’s some reason to believe it may be sustainable.

After suffering from poor luck in 2009, Bruce finished last season with a .334 BABIP. Much of that increase was due to Bruce’s great line drive rate. Sure enough, Bruce has regained his ability to spray line drives all over the field this month. After scuffling with just 5.6% line drives through the month of April, Bruce has been able to increase that number to 17.7% in May.

While it’s reasonable to expect Bruce to continue hitting line drives at a high rate, it’s unlikely his big power surge will continue. Over the month of May, Bruce has managed to hit 24.2% of his fly balls out of the ballpark, an unsustainable rate going forward. The high number shouldn’t diminish anything Bruce has accomplished over this month, though. As Joe Pawl attempted to explain in his article, it’s tough to evaluate Bruce’s performance this season…and in a way, that’s true. Bruce definitely won’t continue mashing at this current rate. At the same time, his May surge has put him back on track to live up to his lofty pre-season predictions after a poor start the season. Jay Bruce’s current streak has been impressive, and even though some aspects won’t hold up as the season progresses, it’s gotten Bruce back on the right track. Sometimes, that’s good enough.

Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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12 years ago

Keep it going Jay!