Like Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce is a left-handed slugger who has had a good amount of success against the Cardinals over the course of his career. His career slash line against the Cardinals sits at .237/.294/.398.
The .398 slugging percentage is nowhere near that of Alvarez (.473), but he still has 12 doubles, 12 home runs, and 44 RBI in 88 career games against the Cardinals. One-third of his production came from last season alone. In 19 games, Bruce hit .315 with four doubles, four home runs, and 15 RBI.
Bruce has a career .257/.330/.482 slash line. After taking a look at his slugging percentage against the Cardinals (.398, 84 points lower than his career SLG%), he may not be a true “Cardinal Killer” like Alvarez. However, given his numbers against the Cardinals in 2013 and the fact that one of my readers asked me to take a look at Bruce, I decided to write a post on him anyways.
As noted on the following graphs (from BrooksBaseball.net), but to avoid any confusion, all zones are from the catcher’s point of view.
Bruce’s 2013 whiff rate against left-handed pitchers was surprisingly low for a lefty slugger who averages 137 strikeouts per season at just 15.9% (136 whiffs/858 pitches). Non-overpowering lefties like Jaime Garcia or Randy Choate can attack the zones boxed in yellow (21.5% whiff rate); whereas, Kevin Siegrist (fastball averaged 96 MPH in 2013) can attack Bruce up in the zones boxed in orange (26.4% whiff rate).
Ideally, if one of the above pitchers is looking for a strikeout, they should avoid the inside corners of the strikezone against Bruce. These two zones are boxed in green, and he had just two whiffs on 63 pitches (3.2%) in those zones last season.
Right-handed pitchers, especially hard-throwers like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, can attack Bruce up the zone–preferably towards the outside corner. His 2013 whiff rate against right-handed pitchers was also pretty low for a slugger at just 15.3% (290 whiffs/1899 pitches). However, his whiff rate was significantly higher in the zones boxed in yellow (23%) and even higher in the zones boxed in orange (27.6%).
Thus, if any of our righties find themselves in a situation where a strikeout is necessary and Bruce is at the plate, their best bet is start him up and away in the zone, with down and out of the strikezone as their primary backup plan.
Of 152 balls in play against lefties in 2013, 35 of them were linedrives–23%. 40% of these linedrives came on pitches in the middle of the zone which is to be expected–big league pitchers know to avoid the middle of the zone, especially against sluggers like Bruce.
After taking a look at both lefty graphs, it appears that the best place for lefties to attack Bruce is down in the zone from the middle-out (boxed in yellow) where his linedrive percentage is just 12.5%. There is that little blip on the outside corner where nearly 30% of the balls in play were linedrives, but I think this may be due to the small sample size. Either that, or he just loves scorching liners down into the left-field corner.
As a fan of the Cardinals, this graph frightened me. There’s a reason why he has a .267/.341/.502 career slash line against right-handed pitchers. I really could not find a glaring hole that Cardinals’ pitchers could exploit. In 2013, on 302 balls put in play, 94 of them (31.1%) were linedrives. This puts him near the top of the league and shows just how potent his bat can be against righties.
As I noted in the right-handed pitcher whiffs graph, pitching Bruce “up and away” can lead to more swings and misses. However, as you can see, if he does make contact on pitches that are up and in the strikezone, there is a pretty good chance he makes solid contact. Thus, the best place for righties to go is up and out of the zone (boxed in yellow)–hoping to get Bruce to chase. They can set these pitches up with breaking balls or changeups down in the zone immediately prior to change his eye level–increasing the chances of him chasing pitches out of the zone.
Overall, Bruce is a much better hitter than Alvarez. He may strike out just as much as Alvarez, but he hits for a higher average and has a significantly higher on-base percentage. Also, when he does put the ball in play, it’s more likely to be a linedrive than balls off the bat of Alvarez.
Being a better hitter, there are obviously fewer glaring holes in his swing. However, as I noted above, the Cardinals’ hard-throwing righties (which they have plenty of) best chance is by throwing pitches up and away–with their best chance on pitches out of the zone completely. This not only leads to more swings and misses, but also fewer line drives.
Lefties can attack him low and away, just like with Alvarez. Siegrist can attack him up and away, but he must be careful because zones immediately adjacent to these somewhat “cold” zones show that he can be very dangerous.
In short, Bruce is a much tougher hitter to pitch to than Alvarez. I hope the Cardinals can figure him out because at the age of 26, they are going to have to deal with his potent bat for years to come.
Due up next: Brandon Phillips
Until next time…