Today marks the debut of a new Rotosynthesis feature, BABIP of the Week. Every week, I'll look at one batter, or pitcher, who's either a good buy-low or sell-high, using BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) as a barometer. Our first victim: Jay Bruce.
Only one everyday player in Major League Baseball sports a lower BABIP than Bruce's microscopic .206 (more on that other player in a minute). Given what we know about a typical player's BABIP (average figures tend to cluster about 100 points higher), Bruce's start tells us he's either been unlucky, or that he's hitting in the ball in a way that's not conducive to hitting balls where they ain't.
First let's look at the factors he can control. Bruce hits 0.70 groundballs for every one flyball. That's the 19th lowest rate in the game. As this Rich Lederer article (and many others) tell us, groundballs hit in play yield a much higher rate (about .260) than do flyballs hit in play that don't result in home runs (around .160-.170).
More troubling is Bruce's line drive rate. Those are the types of batted balls that are by far the most likely to drop in safely. But Bruce owns the third-lowest LD|PERCENT| in MLB at 13.1|PERCENT|–only pikers Cristian Guzman and Howie Kendrick are lower.
Where these numbers go from here is open to debate. In his rookie season last year, Bruce produced a much higher line drive rate, 21.1|PERCENT|. His GB/FB rate was a much higher 1.31 in '08, which also explains his considerably higher batting average in '08.
Either way, we now have a player hitting .216 for the season. That's .216/.294/.474 overall, and here's where we get to the good stuff: 14 HR (6th in the NL), 30 RBI and 29 R so far this year. Indeed, while Bruce's extreme flyball rates make him a potential batting average liability, batters who hit a lot more flyballs than groundballs are also more likely to hit the ball out of the ballpark, assuming they've got the power to do so.
Bruce obviously does, with an Isolated Slugging number (ISO) of .258, 24th-highest in the majors. He's improved in other ways too, hiking his BB/K rate to 0.42 (up from 0.30 last year) and his BB/AB rate up to 0.90/PA (0.73 last year).
So here we have a hitter hitting a ton of flyballs, very few line drives (which may or may not be a small sample size fluke), while showing an improved batting eye and tons of power. By contrast, the only player with a lower BABIP than Bruce is Garrett Atkins,
who at just 29, playing in Coors Field, should be a viable player, but has shown nothing in the way of encouraging signs, hitting .188/.264/.273 (he's not even viable enough to be a candidate for Chris Liss' Buy Lowest approach right now)
Jay Bruce is not going to come at the same bottom of the barrel discount that you'd get for, say, David Ortiz right now. Bruce is just 22 years old, and fantasy owners are seduced by youth and potential, even in non-keeper leagues. But you can probably get him for 85 cents on the dollar. You absolutely should go after him. Even if the low line drive rate holds, Bruce has still been so unlucky that a .240-.250 average with tons of power and run production should be in the cards for him for the rest of the season.
And if things really start to click, Jay Bruce could be the reason you win your league.