Acquired OF-L Jay Bruce from New York Mets in exchange for RHP Ryder Ryan. [8/9]
On July 9, the Indians placed right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall on the disabled list with a right calf injury. Chisenhall was in the midst of a pretty impressive offensive run, hitting 12 homers in 64 games and walking much more frequently (9.7 percent) than ever before. Though his defense has been, let’s say, “unreliable” in right field and untenable in center field, Chizz offered a potent bat against right-handed pitching without being bench-worthy against lefties. That made for an ideal sidekick to cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion, as handed-ness relief specialists continue to have difficulty with the Indians' switch-hitters-and-platoons lineup.
Why am I spending the first paragraph of a Jay Bruce Transaction Analysis talking about Lonnie Chisenhall? Because in Bruce, the Indians are basically acquiring a note-perfect Chisenhall replacement. While Bruce may offer worse defense—maybe, both the numbers and the eye test are pretty inconsistent on both dudes—Bruce plied his righty-wrecking trade in Ohio for much longer than Chisenhall, and will certainly add power to this already-formidable Cleveland lineup. (Fun fact: the two players are also much closer in age than I would’ve guessed, with just 18 months separating them.)
After a very tough debut in blue and orange last season, Bruce has rebounded nicely in 2017 with a .297 True Average. The big number is 29; that’s how many homers he’s hit, and that’s good for ninth in baseball. Power is not the problem with Bruce, who has consistently shown an ability to whomp 30 or so dingers per season. The problem is almost everything else. Bruce doesn’t walk nearly as often as you’d like for a top-tier home run hitter (8.7 percent this season), and his batting average is low enough to consistently drag his on-base percentage down to indifferent-grunt levels. Despite all of his power, he sits in that “comfortably above-average” offensive tier, which is perfectly acceptable. The rub is everything else.
At this stage in his career he’s a below-average baserunner and a confusing fielder. After a few years of being borderline-unplayable in right field, the numbers this season (3.3 FRAA) say that a switch has flipped, but as I noted above, he doesn’t look like his range has magically increased in some dramatic way. Most likely, this is a sample size issue, and he’s a bad fielder who will be happy to rely on Bradley Zimmer’s range to cover some of the right field ground. You can play him at first base too, in a pinch, but I wouldn’t recommend it. He’s fine, and the Indians have no need to worry about his performance beyond this season, as they can promptly move on when he hits free agency in November.
This past week, the Indians lost Michael Brantley to injury, which may or may not have been the impetus for this deal. While a Bradley Zimmer-Abraham Almonte-Brandon Guyer outfield may not have made waves, it might’ve held up well enough until either Brantley or Chisenhall come off the DL. As such, this makes me think that Bruce is almost a kind of hedge against either of those injured outfielders coming all the way back. On pure talent and production, Bruce is probably a step or two behind a healthy Brantley, and pretty even with Chisenhall. But given the relatively low cost of acquisition, it seems like a no-brainer to snag Bruce and keep their lineup humming along.
In a perfect world, the Indians will need to have a couple of tough conversations in the postseason when all three of Brantley, Bruce, and Chisenhall are healthy and hitting, but that’s a better problem to potentially have than to be short a left-handed power bat when staring down Masahiro Tanaka or Rick Porcello come playoff time. —Bryan Grosnick
Acquired RHP Ryder Ryan from Cleveland Indians in exchange for OF-L Jay Bruce. [8/9]
A sparingly used position player for the University of North Carolina, Ryan was popped by the Indians in the 30th round of the 2016 draft as a conversion project to the mound. In his first full season as a pitcher, Ryan has struck out 49 batters in 41 innings as a reliever in the low Single-A Midwest League. His four-seam fastball averages north of 94 mph, topping out at 98, with high spin. His breaking ball, an above-average spin pitch in its own right, has significant horizontal movement and can be categorized as a slurve.
Both offerings have produced swings and misses for Ryan, although he struggles at times to locate his breaking ball, which is unsurprising for someone as new to pitching as he is. Ryan is a decent get for Bruce and Bruce’s remaining contract, but the fact that the Indians had to eat the totality of his salary almost certainly suppressed the return here and prevented the Mets from getting full value. —Skyler Kanfer