By Zach Gewelb
Arguably nothing was more disappointing last season than Jay Bruce, the Mets’ prized trade deadline acquisition who flopped in his first two months in New York. But things may be starting to trend upward for the lefty slugger.
Bruce slashed .219/.294/.391 with just eight home runs and 19 RBI in 50 games with New York last season, drawing boos from fans. He didn’t look comfortable playing somewhere else besides Cincinnati for the first time in his career and his struggle is a big reason why the Mets didn’t win the division last season. But his early 2017 resurgence has shown just how valuable he can be for the Mets.
Bruce has already hit four home runs in his first seven games this season, and has become a consistent threat in the middle of the Mets’ lineup, providing much needed support for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. He has slashed .304/448/.870 early this season and while he is unlikely to keep raking at this pace, he’s a good bet to continue his power stroke.
When Bruce is at his best, he is a big time power threat and run-producer.
He has posted 30-plus home runs and 90-plus RBI seasons four times in his career and the Mets need Bruce to continue playing at a high level. The lefty slugged two-home runs in New York’s 4-3 victory over Philadelphia Monday night. His first homer of the game, a solo shot in the fourth inning, cut the Phillies’ lead to 2-1 and his two-run eighth inning blast gave the Mets a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Bruce’s first home run of the season came in a 3-1 loss to the Braves, but his second blast of the year helped lead the Mets to victory against Miami. New York is 2-1 in games in which Bruce homers.
When Bruce goes yard, the Mets have a much better chance of winning. His presence lengthens the lineup and if he’s hot, teams will be forced to attack Cespedes with more fastballs, rather than pitching carefully to the feared slugger.
But despite his early season hot streak, there is still some reason to be concerned with Bruce. He has only hit over .280 once in his career (.281 back in 2010) and he has never posted an on-base percentage of more than .353 (also in 2010), so don’t expect his current numbers to hold steady over the course of the season.
Then there’s also the Michael Conforto issue. The Mets’ young, sweet-swinging lefty has gotten off to a strong start to the season as well, albeit in a limited sample size. There’s been speculation that Conforto should take time from Bruce in right field, but with both playing well, the Mets should find a way to fit both in the lineup more consistently, especially against righties.
But Bruce needs to stay in the lineup when he’s hot, even at the expense of Conforto. His run-producing potential is too high to keep him on the bench.
With Bruce finally playing at a high level, the Mets have to be happy with their 2016 trade deadline acquisition. Now it’s up to him to continue the trend.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe