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2020 player reviews: Jay Bruce didn’t stick the landing

For the second straight season, Jay Bruce’s season was marred by injury and a season-ending slump

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Jay Bruce was good against least until he got hurt
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The numbers

.198/.252/.469 BA/OBP/SLG, 6 HR, 14 RBI

The background

Acquired in a midseason trade in 2019, Bruce made an instant impact with the Phillies, hitting five home runs in his first seven games with the team. Unfortunately, he soon ran into injury issues and missed over a month of the season. When he returned, he slumped badly, with a batting average of just .080 over the final month of the season.

The good

With the designated hitter unexpectedly used in the National League in 2020, Bruce was an ideal fit for the least against right-handed pitching. In the 10 games in which he served as the DH, Bruce had a 1.017 OPS. He also had a strong season against right-handed pitchers, putting up an .821 OPS against them.

The bad

The left-handed Bruce performed poorly when he had to face lefty pitching. 18 at bats isn’t a lot to go by, but a .111 batting average with zero walks against similar-handed pitching isn’t good. Bruce’s previous career splits had never been nearly that drastic, and he actually did better against lefties than righties in 2019, so this was probably a small sample size aberration.

Bruce also hit much better when he was the designated hitter, although there’s no easy explanation for that. Having spent most of his career in the National League, its not like playing the field should have been a huge shock to his system. So this might be another write off to short-season wackiness.

More concerning is that for the second straight season, he suffered an injury towards the end of the season and played poorly upon his return. In his final 15 games, Bruce’s OPS was just .430.

The future

Bruce is a free agent, and my guess is that he does not return in 2021. I don’t see a lucrative market developing for veterans like Bruce, so his price tag shouldn’t be too high, but he may choose to pursue more playing time elsewhere.

It seems doubtful there will be a designated hitter in the National League in 2021. The Phillies would probably like to have Bruce back to serve as a power bat off the bench, and a possible fill-in at first base for Rhys Hoskins who is likely to miss some time at the beginning of the season. But without a designated hitter, Bruce would probably find playing time scarce - especially after Hoskins returns.

At age 34, coming off two consecutive injury-marred, poorly-finished seasons, Bruce’s days as a regular might be over. But he’ll still probably seek out more playing time than the Phillies have to offer, so his future likely lies somewhere in the American League.