The similarities between Jay Bruce and Barry Bonds are quite frankly, amazing. Jay Bruce’s first four major league seasons in many ways mirror Barry Bonds’ first four major league seasons. Let’s compare…
Rookies at 21
Both Bruce and Bonds made their MLB debut at the age of 21, as highly touted prospects possessing all the “tools.” As 21 year old rookies, both played just over 100 games, seeing less than 500 plate appearances. Neither player posted great numbers, but both Bonds and Bruce were approximately league-average hitters. While Bonds showed more discipline at the plate, acquiring more walks and a higher OBP despite a lower average, Bruce showed more power at the age of 21.
At 22 years old, both players took a slight step forward. Unfortunately for Bruce, his season was cut short when he broke his wrist in July of the 2009 season. Nonetheless, Bruce demonstrated a better approach in his sophomore season. While his batting average dropped more than 30 points (largely due to a .221 BABIP), Bruce improved his SO/BB ratio from 3.33 as a rookie to 1.97. Likewise, Bruce showed more power at 22, improving his SLG and HR%. Bonds’ improvement was primarily in the power department, where he saw a 76 point increase in SLG.
At the age of 23, Bonds and Bruce harnessed much of their potential and put together breakout seasons. Each player saw significant improvements in batting average and OBP, while maintaining (Bonds) or improving upon (Bruce) their power numbers. Bruce posted one more HR than Bonds at 23 years old (25 to 24). At age 23, Jay Bruce and Barry Bonds were almost identical hitters.
Entering their age 24 seasons, both Bruce and Bonds were expected to take that “next step forward,” with many fans expecting MVP-type performances. Along with increased expectations came increased playing time. At 24 years old, Bonds and Bruce played more than 150 games for the first time in their careers, racking up over 650 plate appearances. In both cases, production declined. Bonds’ drop-off was more severe than Bruce’s. Bonds saw his OPS drop by 52 points, while Bruce’s OPS dropped 31 points. Additionally, both Bonds and Bruce demonstrated wild inconsistency. Bruce and Bonds each recorded 3 months of above-league-average production at the plate along with 3 months of below-league-average production. All was not lost for Bruce however, as the 24 year-old Texan made his first ever All-Star appearance, something Bonds would not do until reaching 25 years old.
25 = MVP (?)
What Jay Bruce will do at the age of 25 remains to be seen. As Reds fans, we can only hope he continues to mirror the career path of Barry Bonds. At 25 years old, Bonds put it all together, with a slash line of .301/.406/.565 with 33 HR, on his way to his first of seven MVP awards. At 25, Bonds improved in every way at the plate – striking out less, walking more, and hitting for more power. So, sure… it’s probably unrealistic to expect this kind of jump in production from Bruce. However, as Bonds proved, it’s not impossible. Given the uncanny resemblance of Bruce’s first four seasons to Bonds’ first four seasons, I think it’s fair to say the Reds fans should be expecting 2012 to be the year when Jay Bruce reaches his potential.