COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Reds know what they have in right fielder Jay Bruce. It's why he's under contract through the 2016 season, and it's why he should be an All-Star not just in 2013 but every year forward, like he has been for the past two years. Here are the five reasons why Bruce is an All-Star:
Whether it be the Beaumont Bomber or Babe Bruce, the power mantle has been one that Bruce has carried through his playing career and for good reason: Bruce hits mammoth home runs of the ilk that draw comparison to his former teammate Adam Dunn, now of the Chicago White Sox. This year, Bruce's 18 long balls are three behind NL leader Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies and have him tied for fifth overall in the league. Among NL outfielders, only Gonzalez and Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies have hit more homers than Bruce. In terms of RBIs among outfielders, only Gonzalez has more than Bruce, whose 55 RBIs through 78 games are good enough for fifth overall in the NL.
Power production alone this year should have Bruce among the top vote-getters among NL outfielders, but much of Bruce's numbers came in June (10 HRs and 20 RBIs), which came later than the initial vote for All-Stars. Still, based on numbers alone this year, Bruce should be among the top three vote-getters among NL outfielders.
For the fans in Reds' Country who are able to watch Bruce play right field day-in and day-out, his ability in the field is evident. Bruce has yet to commit an error this year, and, although he has only thrown out two base runners this year, the threat of his strong arm is a deterrent that has proven to be effective as Bruce has ranked within the top five among NL right fielders in assists for the past four years. Often overlooked with the Gold Glove caliber of Bruce's defense is the sheer number of putouts he makes as a right fielder. Much like his right-side-of-the-field teammate Brandon Phillips, Bruce gets to a lot of balls that other right fielders just can't. Bruce has ranked within the top three among NL right fielders in putouts for the past four years, including 2013. Bruce relies less on speed than he does instincts and break on the ball. His ability to judge the ball off the bat is impeccable and should be an attribute that the All-Star manager recognizes and rewards since fans with spam votes are apparently as oblivious to his overall fielding skills as they are his power production.
Since his rookie season in 2008 when he hit 21 homers and knocked in 52 runs, Bruce has embarked upon a unique power production trajectory: he has increased his HR and RBI totals in each of his first five seasons, capped by 34 HRs and 99 RBIs in 2012. Through his first five seasons, Bruce has hit the 16th most home runs (134) in baseball history among players in their first five seasons who were 25 years old or younger during their fifth season. Among current players, this trajectory puts Bruce among the likes of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels and Dunn. Historically, that list includes Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, and Eddie Mathews.
Best Player Available
In the late innings of the All-Star game, having Bruce in right field and in the batting order would mean the NL would have the best overall right fielder in the league playing in the game when it may mean the most. Fortunately, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy is more than aware that fan preference is useless in determining home field advantage for the World Series. Bochy has seen enough of Bruce first hand to understand just how good and valuable he is. Bruce will give the NL the best chance to win should the game be on the line in later innings.
Home Run Derby
The fan vote does not determine the participants for the All-Star game Home Run Derby, but it should probably be the only part of All-Star selections that is determined by fan vote. Bruce could provide the same kind of power display that his former teammate Josh Hamilton did in 2008 while a member of the Texas Rangers. Whether or not Bruce is picked for the derby remains to be seen, but this year should be no different than the past two years when it comes to Bruce's selection for the All-Star game itself, regardless of misguided fan vote or media campaigns to have a player like Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers picked instead.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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