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Jay Bruce’s numbers in Cleveland, in context

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The Tribe’s newest slugger has an insane slash line at Progressive Field.

Cleveland Indians v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians got Jay Bruce, which is cool. He hits the ball real hard, and has for a quite a few years. He's been more valuable by WAR than every position player on the Indians except Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor with 2.5 so far this year, and has been fine in the outfield. It's a nice pickup. As a bonus, he's apparently crushed it at Progressive Field in his career, boasting a .384/.438/.593 line when facing the Indians. This seems like good news. But with numbers like that, so far removed from his career averages, something's gotta be up.

Bruce is a career .249/.318/.471 hitter, good for a 107 wRC+. His best year to date was probably 2010, when he hit .281/.353/.493, working out to a 124 wRC+. Which is pretty good. But it's not exactly the Ted Williams-esque line (not enough walks, but close enough) that he's posted in Cleveland. Heck, he's hit .254/.328/.500 At Great American Ball Park, a hitter's paradise. This necessitates some rooting around. Let’s get granular.

First off, Bruce has been in some ways lucky at Progressive. His BABIP there is .409. That's good, but probably (definitely) unsustainable. That's easy to understand, though. I figured it made sense to look at all the games Bruce has played in his career in Cleveland, 23 in all. It’s not a lot, so we’re certainly dealing with the world of Small Sample Size. He has hits in 16 of those games, and multiple in 13. His best games (judged by a combination of what the box score says and Win Probability Added, synthesized through my own arbitrary filter) are as follows, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

5/22/2010 - 4-for-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, .201 WPA

6/18/2012 - 3-for-4, 1 HR, 2 RBI 1 BB, .198 WPA

8/5/2014 - 3-for-5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .053 WPA

5/22/2015 - 2-for-2, 1 2B, 2 BB, .097 WPA

6/27/2009 - 1-for-3, 1 HR, 1 BB, .115 WPA

These aren't all Bruce's best games in the box score. There's a couple 2-for-4 games, a couple home runs and some doubles I skipped over. They also aren't his best WPA games, there's games with .156 and .122 win probability added I eschewed. But this gives you an idea. Of the 33 hits he has at Progressive, this makes up 13 of them, as well as three of the four homers and a third of his doubles there. This makes some sense - despite what we get from rate stats, nobody adheres to them rigidly. The man who took the mound for the Indians on those days could prove to be revelatory. Here's who started in each of those five games, and their season stats that year:

5/22/2010 - Roberto Hernandez/Fausto Carmona - 13-14, 3.77 ERA, 4.11 FIP

6/12/2012 - Derek Lowe - 9-11, 5.11 ERA. 4.37 FIP -0.6 bWAR

8/5/2014 - Josh Tomlin - 6-9, 4.76 ERA, 4.01 FIP, -0.6 bWAR

5/22/2015 - Carlos Carrasco - 14-12, 3.63 ERA, 2.48 FIP

6/27/2009 - Tomo Ohka - 1-5, 5.96 ERA, 6.49 FIP

Through the heart of Bruce's career, the Indians had some pretty terrible pitching. He did do alright against Carrasco, but that's about it. The rest of these guys were either on their last legs, in the midst of proving to be literally not themselves or else were Tomo Ohka. I legitimately do not remember him as a pitcher for the Indians at any point.

Bruce did very well in Cleveland. But the fact of the matter is, for at least 14 of the 23 games he palyed against the Indians in his career in Cleveland, the only pitchers of any real positive note the Tribe boasted were Cliff Lee in 2009 (Bruce saw Ohka, Jeremy Sowers and David Huff that series instead) and the 2013 version of Justin Masterson. Bruce did face Masterson, and went 0-for-3 with a walk in a 5-2 Cincinnati Reds loss.

Basically, it’s much easier to hit when the pitchers are bad.

Jay Bruce is a good hitter. This year he's better than Michael Brantley, he's hit more home runs than anyone on the team, and he's been at least not terrible in the outfield. This is a good get. But It's a bit silly of any smart baseball mind to mention that batting line in Cleveland as anything that was a driving force for the front office in the trade. I get why (it’s idly interesting and attention-grabbin), but it’s disingenuous.

The Tribe brass are realistic, smart people. They know what they're really getting. A player that hits homers and gets on base. There's really not much more to expect. As Bruce himself said, expecting Superman is a fool's errand. Not just from him, from any midseason trade pickup. The team needs the already good players it has to be still good. That's where the division crown will come from. Bruce is just a nice tasty cherry on top of this big ol' October sundae.