Reds’ ‘Mr. May’ Jay Bruce smashes 12th homer of month

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They’re calling Jay Bruce “Mr. May” in Cincinnati. And for good reason.

The 24-year-old Reds outfielder has had an amazing month, carrying the Reds offense. In Cincinnati’s 7-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday, Bruce was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, falling a double short of the cycle.

He’s bashed 12 home runs and driven in 32 runs in May while hitting .346. He’s two short of the team record for home runs in a month, shared by Frank Robinson (August, 1962) and Greg Vaughn (Sept. 1999). But the Reds play the Brewers again on Tuesday, so don’t rule him out just yet. Two home runs? It doesn’t seem impossible the way Bruce is swinging the bat.

Bruce has a career OPS of .814 (.901 this season), but has been prone to chasing bad pitches during his four-year career. But not so much this season, according to the man himself, as told to the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“I’ve been making better decisions, which is one of the big things,” Bruce said. “It’s cliché and all that, but it’s the truth. Swing at pitches you want to swing at and don’t swing at the pitches they’re trying to get you to chase, and you’re going to have a lot easier time up there.”

It’s not so much about recognizing the strike zone – a quick trip over to Fangraphs reveals that Bruce is swinging at 29.1 percent of pitches out of the zone, just 0.2 percent below his 2010 level – but that he is swinging at, and crushing, pitches that he likes, whether they are in the zone or not. Bruce’s contact rate on pitches outside the zone is 61.6 percent (up from 53.2 percent for his career), and his overall contact rate is 76.2 percent (compared to 74.1).

Whatever the reason for Bruce’s hot streak, the Reds like what they see.

“It just shows his potential, what he can do,” Reds manager Dusty Baker told the Enquirer. “His concentration is great, his balance is excellent and he’s keeping his head still. It’s really nice to see him swinging great.”

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Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.