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Mets might not get what they think in acquisition of Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce has had a career year at the plate, but is trading away Dilson Herrera worth the risk that it will continue?

Jay Bruce
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the Mets acquired RF Jay Bruce from the Reds in exchange for 2B Dilson Herrera and a lesser prospect in Max Wotell. The Reds are continuing their rebuild while the Mets hope to improve a struggling offense.

Bruce is an odd fit to say the least. The Mets outfield is already full with Yoenis Céspedes, Michael Conforto, and Curtis Granderson, which means that one of them will have to sit if Céspedes doesn't head to the DL with his current leg injury. He can't even be platooned with Conforto or Granderson because they all hit left-handed.

Many people have pointed out Bruce's terrible defensive metrics this season. He has a -13 DRS and -11.5 UZR. However, in-season defensive metrics always have to be taken with a grain of salt. You need a multi-year sample to give you an adequate representation of a player's true-talent defense. That doesn't mean Bruce isn't a bad fielder, because he is. He just isn’t as bad as his in-season metrics indicate. ESPN's Dan Szymborski said that ZiPS rates Bruce's true talent defense as that of a -8 DRS fielder. Even the most pessimistic evaluation of the Mets' current starting outfielders would not have them close to that bad in a corner outfield spot.

Of course, the Mets didn’t acquire Bruce for his defense. They acquired him because he’s having his best year since 2010 at the plate. He’s hitting .265/.316/.559 with 25 HR, which is good for a 125 wRC+. The only qualified hitter performing better than that on the team is Céspedes. So that should mean Bruce will be a big improvement, right? Right???

Well, no, not likely. There’s a problem.

When a hitter improves his wOBA by over 50 points compared to the season before, that should raise some red flags. Outside of recovering from an injury, a player has to have made a real, sustainable change at the plate for such an improvement not to be a mirage. It rarely happens to 29-year-old players, too.

In the two seasons prior, Bruce hit a combined .222/.288/.407. The small OBP improvement can be attributed to a small increase in BABIP luck and a small increase in contact rates. The biggest increase is his over 100-point improvement in isolated power that is the result of all the home runs he’s hitting. Unfortunately, that is likely to be unsustainable. Besides moving from a hitter-friendly ballpark to a more pitcher-friendly one, Bruce has a 20.8 percent HR/FB ratio. That is four percentage points higher than his career rate. His hard-hit rate is a little higher than the past couple of seasons, but that doesn’t go far enough to explain such a high HR/FB ratio. As a result, ZiPS has Bruce projected for a .251/.314/.482 line the rest of the season. His projected 105 wRC+ is comparable with the projected offense of Conforto and Granderson. Unless Céspedes misses significant time, it’s hard to project Bruce to be even a one-win upgrade over the rest of the season.

The upside to the deal is that it hedges against Céspedes leaving after this season, which I believe is a virtual lock at this point. He’s having another great season and will have the opportunity to test a poor free agent market. The Mets can pick up Bruce’s $12.5 million option and hold on to him. That still presents problems, though. It would force Conforto or Granderson into center field, which is inadvisable. They could try converting Bruce to first base, but if his sudden power surge does indeed regress, his bat won’t play there.

That’s a lot of risk to take on in return for Dilson Herrera, a player whom I’ve always been high on. In fact, the Mets have been so low on him the past couple of years that you have to wonder whether or not they know something we don’t. I was perplexed when the Mets chose to acquire Neil Walker instead of just giving the job to Herrera. Yes, Herrera hit .211/.311/.367 last year, but that was with a .250 BABIP in a measly 31 games. Again, something has always been fishy with the Mets and Herrera.

If Bruce were not an awkward fit for this Mets team with power that’s likely to regress, this would be a more sensible deal for the team. I would have been a much bigger fan of the Mets going after Zack Cozart. He’s a great defensive shortstop who has been hitting .263/.314/.461 since the beginning of last season. He could’ve filled in for an injured Asdrúbal Cabrera, who is likely done for the year. Cozart is also under team control through 2017, and for a lot less money than Bruce.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.