2014 Bengals Preview: Here We F**kin’ Go Again

giovanni bernard bengalsAre you sure you want to strap in for another Cincinnati Bengals season? You do? Seriously? Wow. Your dedication is enviable. Not by me, of course, but by some.

If you know me well, you know that I gave up on my Bengal fandom about six years ago (right around the end of the Chad Johnson/Ochocinco ridiculousness and the Carson Palmer pussness). After paying a steep price many, many excruciating Sundays with this team, I had reached my breaking point. For my sanity, there was no other recourse than to jump off the train.

Now, if you don’t know me personally, or haven’t read me much, you can tie your horse to a couple of things with regard to this season preview:

1) I’m completely objective. Since I’m no longer a live-and-die-and-die-and-die-some-more Bengals fan, you can rest assured that I am no homer. I call it as I see it.

2) I do not judge you for continuing to show up Sunday after Sunday with your alcohol and your face paint and your Jason Buck #99 jersey to watch the Cincinnati Bengals. Just because I’d rather watch six straight episodes of the TV show “Roseanne” translated into Japanese than sit through an entire Bengals football game doesn’t mean I’m gonna perch atop my high horse and rag on your parade.  

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get to this 2014-15 professional football season.

The Missing Ingredient

We’ll start with something simple that will ramp up your confidence. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU.

The past few seasons, as Cincinnati was leaning heavily on its defense en route to multiple playoff appearances, the offense had a major issue: Short yardage situations were more difficult to convert than a Muslim to Judaism.

You know exactly what I’m talking about: Andy Dalton zips a pass over the middle to Marvin Jones on 2nd and 10 for a gain of 9. Shit, you automatically say, he didn’t get that first down? Damn it.

You were skittish because you damn well knew it would be pulling teeth to get that one yard.

We’d probably see the straight hand-off up the exact center of the obvious-ass middle to Benjarvus Green-Ellis—-you know, really catch the opposing defensive coordinator off guard. Or perhaps we’d see former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden elect to send Dalton back for a pass. Either way, soon after the play concluded, you’d likely have slammed your fist down on a table and spewed twelve expletives…or you’d be so numb to the failure that you’d have no reaction at all other than to sigh, take another swig of your Mich Ultra and wait impatiently through four minutes of really terrible commercials until the game came back on.

Enter Jeremy Hill. He’s 6 foot 2, he’s 236 pounds. He has nary a notion of sidestepping contact. When the football is in his hands, he wants to split your sternum in half.

If this dude can consistently move the chains on those short yardage downs, your Cincinnati Bengals will benefit in a few ways:

1) Keeping drives alive builds momentum and rests your workhorse defense; it also gives you field position advantage
2) It will open up the “play action pass” (when the quarterback fakes the hand-off, draws the defense in, and then throws the ball over top to a streaking wide receiver)
3) More touchdowns, fewer field goals

Bottom line: Your Bengals gained the 10th-most yards in the NFL last season while scoring 27 points per game. You’ve got weapons all over the joint with pimps like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu (my favorite Bengal, for the record), Giovanni Bernard and the rest of the crew.

But trying to roll with Benjarvus Green-Ellis as your short yardage back…yeah, uh, that ain’t scarin’ nobody. Remove Green-Ellis (they did) and insert a gigantic bowling ball that runs a 4.6 40-yard-dash—–now you’re talkin’.

The Defense

Carlos DUN-lap

Carlos DUN-lap

Even a non-Bengal fan such as myself knows that Cincinnati’s defense has been a f**king brick wall the past few seasons. In 2013, the Bengals allowed the 3rd fewest yards in all of football. How’d they manage to be that stingy? A stout “Front 7″.

You show me a good football defense, and I’ll point to a disruptive defensive line. One of the many, many, MANY frustrating things about Bengals football for years was a soft, geriatric-slow pass rush. If I had a nickel for every Bengals game I’ve watched when the opposing quarterback never had a single daggum finger laid on him, I could buy South Dakota. (And I would buy South Dakota. Then I’d change the name to Reverse Dunkota.)

But fortunately, the days of those invisible defensive lines are in the past. Now, Cincinnati’s Front 4 is stacked, even with the departure of Michael Johnson. You’ve got runstoppers (Domato Peko, Geno Atkins), you’ve got guys who make QB’s brown their jockstraps (Margus Hunt); you’ve even got athletic freaks like ‘Los Dunlap who can drop back into coverage and eff with opposing offensive coordinators’ heads.

On your linebacking core, you’ve got Vontaze Burfict patrolling the field like a crazyperson. The guy’s in on every tackle like his name was Lawrence Taylor. Rey Maualuga is deceptively decent (how ’bout THAT compliment?) in the middle. It’ll be a rotation of fellas you may not have heard of for the final linebacker slot. On paper, your linebackers aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, but within Cincinnati’s scheme and when combined with that swashbuckling defensive line, you’ll get the required production.

**The Elephant in the Room** Although Mike Zimmer is no longer the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, his fingerprints remain all over this swarming defense. I don’t see why there would be any drop off in beastdom this season on that side of the ball.

The Burning Question: Is Andy Dalton Good Enough?

Cincinnati recently announced a 6-year, $115 million contract extension with QB Andy Dalton which drew considerable uproar on the Internet. (Iron Sheik continued with his Cheetos/genitals fascination, of course.) Did Dalton deserve that type of cash? It’s debatable. On one hand, the guy’s quarterbacked three straight playoff teams. On the other, he’s come up small in all three of those playoff games. The dude is polarizing, there’s no doubt about that. His numbers are big, but his reactions to pressure in the pocket are not instilling confidence in anybody.

Here’s what I’m thinking: Maybe Dalton doesn’t have to be as good as you think he has to be. You see, if Cincinnati can improve upon its ground game (18th in rushing yards per game in 2013), game results won’t hang solely on the shoulders of Cheeto–I mean “The Red Rifle.” And I don’t follow the team as closely as you likely do, but from what I’ve heard, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson intends to run the ball more this season…and it’ll have a good chance of success with the tandem of Bernard and J-Hill.

So the answer to that burning question really doesn’t have anything to do with Andy Dalton. Run the football more consistently and explosively, move the chains, rest your defense and score more 6-pointers than 3-pointers.

If Cincinnati can establish that formula, in combination with its slew of gangstafied weapons in the passing game, I don’t see why this football team won’t win most of its football games.

Prediction Time

12-4 record in the regular season. Advance to AFC Championship game, but drop a heartbreaker to either Tom Brady or some other douchebag quarterback that you’ll hate until the end of time.

Enjoy your Sundays!

 

 

 

 

#Reds: I Tried To Be Positive. I Really, Really Tried!

crazysportskidRant time. It’s gotta happen. All season, from the first post until the recent post from Boca Raton, FL, I’ve believed 2014 was The Year for the Cincinnati Reds.

But not anymore. Not after what just fuckin’ happened in Colorado.

I’ll get my apology for all the foul language out of the way right now because this post will be packed to the brim. I’m sorry in advance.

Okay. Lemme ask you this. No wait, lemme ask The Baseball Gods this: What the daggum hell did everyone associated with the Reds do to deserve THIS?

This season has been absolute, pure, complete and fuckin’ total horse shit. Check this list of players who’ve suffered significant injuries:

Pitchers:

Mat Latos (elbow, knee)
Aroldis Chapman (smashed in face with line drive)
Jonathan Broxton (recovering from surgery)
Tony Cingrani (dead shoulder)
Homer Bailey (elbow…if it’s Tommy John I will punch 18 car windows out)
Sean Marshall (the usual weak ass bullshit)

Hitters:

Joey Votto (who cares anymore)
Brandon Phillips (thumb surgery)
Jay Bruce (knee surgery)
Devin Mesoraco (hamstring)
Skip Schumacher (separated shoulder)

And now, All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier is out with a tweaked back.

So, basically, out of your Top 16 players (8 positions players, 5-man starting rotation and 3 late-inning relievers), fuckin’ only FIVE out of those 16 have been “healthy.” And out of those five, all three position players (Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart) have missed games with injuries.

Are you shitting directly into my mouth with this? Has a team ever basically had every motherfuckin’ significant player get hurt in the same horseshit season before? Somebody look that up. That’s your cue, ESPN1530’s Lance McAlister. Get me the figures on that, will ya buddy?

Okay, so that takes care of the rash of god damn injuries. Now on to the birdshit-in-your-hair stat of the year: Out of the Reds’ 62 losses, 29 of them have been by ONE FUCKING RUN. Guess how many walk-off wins this team has all season? FOUR. That’s it.

Of course, when half your lineup is out ALL OF THE TIME, you’re gonna have trouble scoring runs, especially late in games (when you’re down by ONE RUN). But still, man: Give me a fuggin’ break, will ya? Give us all a break! Twenty-nine games, man. You were ONE RUN short in 29 games. God. I actually started to go through all of the one-run losses the other day, gathering all sorts of stats in a spreadsheet, to see if there was any statistical explanation…and then I stopped doing that because:

1) It was more frustrating than a 2-monthlong sinus infection.
2) Who the fuck cares?

Which brings us to about 45 minutes ago. The 29th one-run loss of this ridiculously ridiculous season of baseball here in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds took a 9-5 lead into the 9th inning at Coors Field in Denver. Bryan Price brought his hammer in: Aroldis Chapman (1.88 ERA, 17.4 K/9 innings). 5-6-7 were due up in the Rockies’ batting order. What does Chapman do? Why, he walks the first fuckin’ four batters he faces, naturally. Why wouldn’t he do that, right?

So Price yanks Chapman and replaces “The Cuban Missile” with regular normal everyman right-handed right-hander-man J.J. Hoover and his 1-8 record. Cool. That’s fun. It’s 9-6 and the bases are loaded. Oh, and there are no outs. Go get ‘em, J.J.!

So Hoover gives up a sacrifice fly and then gets the second out on a line drive (luckily) right at right-fielder Jay Bruce. Okay. We breathe a little bit easier. Two outs, Reds still up 9-7, Rockies have runners on first and second. Hmm, we think: Who’s up next? …

Oh fuck. Oh no. It’s FORMER RED Drew Stubbs. The same Drew Stubbs fans ran out of town two years ago (because he struck out 8900 times every season). Lemme guess, Baseball Gods (Assholes), lemme fuckin’ guess! This scrub is gonna end it right here! Wouldn’t that be sooooo satisfying for you, Gods (Assholes)?

(Cut to: Me frantically calling Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to get a $6 million dollar bet down on Stubbs hitting a walk-off 3-run H.R.)

Hoover starts Stubbs off with (duh) a breaking ball away. Stubbs lays off. So Hoover and Mesoraco brilliantly think, “This guy cannot hit a curveball. We’ll just get one over for a strike and then throw some shitty ones in the dirt, he’ll whiff idiotically, and then we’ll win the game!” So Hoover spins one right down the epicenter of the fucking strike zone, Stubbs squares it up with a bunch of backspin and it’s (obviously) outta here. Walk-off home run, DREW STUBBS.

Reds lose 10 to 9. Oh, the humanity.

I tried to stay positive. I really, really, REALLY did. You know I did. Well, tonight, I’m anything but positive. I’m done.

I’m done.

Now the Reds have to play ANOTHER game tonight and then go to ST. LOUIS for three. And I ain’t watchin’ a single pitch of any of ‘em.

Good night and good riddance.

 

What Has Happened To Sam LeCure in 2014?

Sam LeCure

Sam LeCure


Rubber-armed reliever Sam LeCure has not been the same for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014 as he’d been the past few years out of the bullpen. The difference in 2014? He’s hittable.

When LeCure entered a recent ballgame for the Reds, I was shocked to see one of the numbers Fox Sports Ohio flashed on the screen. Major league hitters have a .286 batting average against “The Oil Man.” For the first time as a reliever, Sam has allowed more hits (48) than innings pitched (42) in ’14.

LeCure also hasn’t been striking out as many hitters. After posting Strikeout Percentages (Strikeouts divided by Total Number of Batters Faced) of 23.8, 25.7 and 26.3 the past three seasons, that rate has dipped all the way down to 19.5 this season.

What’s the deal?

I believe two factors have contributed to LeCure’s derailment as an effective set-up man:

1) Drop in Velocity

LeCure never threw very hard to begin with, but there had always been enough of a difference between his fastball and offspeed pitches to keep hitters off-balanced.

In 2011, LeCure’s average fastball touched just above 90 MPH. In 2012 and ’13, he was right around 89.5. But so far in 2014, that number has dipped down around 87.5, per Pitch f/x. The changeup has always been around 81 MPH — this season it’s right around 80. A 7 MPH difference between fastball and changeup, especially when the fastball is nowhere near overpowering, ain’t foolin’ anybody.

2) Hitters Have Figured LeCure Out

Sam has always been able to jump ahead in the count by spinning a first-pitch curveball in there for a strike. From there, he can throw his back door 2-seamer on the inner half to lefties or the outer half to righties, go with the straight change-up, or some combination of those two, to get to two strikes and eventually retire the batter.

And that was his strategy. It worked pretty well, too, as batters had averages of .202, .216 and .221 against Sammy the past three seasons.

But not this year. I first noticed the adjustment when LeCure faced none other than Milwaukee’s Jonathan fuggin’ Lucroy a couple months back. Sam tried to get ahead with that looping curveball, but Lucroy knew all about it, and he rifled a base hit to left. Since then, I’ve seen enough guys do that to force Sam to now revert back to his fastball to begin at-bats…the same fastball that’s two miles-per-hour slower than usual.

Translation: Remove the element of surprise and a couple of ticks on the radar gun, and Sam LeCure has average stuff.

Sam’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) proves just that. It currently sits at 0.0, which means that he’s not even a hair more valuable than a replacement player.

LeCure hasn’t been awful. His ERA is still under 4.00. I’m not sure if he might be injured, or if his velocity being down has anything to do with his usage rate being less in 2014 (you’d think it would be the opposite). Either way, when the 6th and 7th innings roll around during this do-or-die stretch run, and Bryan Price is forced to go to his bullpen, he’ll have to think twice about going to LeCure.

Hit Like Todd Frazier: 3 Ways To Avoid Slumps

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg'sA big thank you to RedlegNation.com for publishing my post about why Todd Frazier has been slump-free in 2014.

What you’ll find out:

1) What Todd told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon back in Spring Training about focusing on “consistency” and why that word has been the theme of his 2014 season

2) How Todd is using the entire field more in ’14 – and what adjustments he made over the offseason to his batting stance, load and swing path

3) What it means that Todd is “keeping his hands inside the baseball” more often this season

Click here to read the article.

#LetsGoReds

 

#Reds Take 3 Out of 4 Over #Marlins: Bergs Get Job Done in Miami.

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg's

With the Reds’ playoff chances seemingly slipping away on the heels of an unwatchable 2-10 post-All-Star break funk, I knew it was imperative to fly down to Boca Raton, team up with my cousin/brother Scott Berg, his wife Navah and their son Noah, and get some W’s for the Redlegs at Marlins Park.

We met @FlavaFraz21, Todd Frazier, before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

We met Todd Frazier before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

On Thursday night, the Reds trailed 1-0 in the 8th inning–not a big surprise considering the uncanny levels of shwagness we’ve seen from Cincy’s offense in the past two weeks. But then two errors and a walk set up a bases loaded, no out scoring chance. I looked over at a fellow Reds fan and we both said that with the way the team’s been hitting lately, we’d be over-the-moon thrilled with one run out of that situation.

After Ramon Santiago whiffed, Todd Frazier flied out to right and Marlin manchild Giancarlo Stanton gunned Zack Cozart at the plate, it appeared as if the Reds wouldn’t even get that one run.

But thanks to a new rule which says the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball, a replay review overturned the call, which changed the scoring to a sacrifice fly for big Todd Frazier and a run scored for Cozart. The next batter to the plate for the Reds was Ryan Ludwick, and he promptly took advantage of the opportunity provided by the finally-smiling-on-the-Reds baseball gods with a go-ahead 2-run blow to center. Reds lead 3-1. I look up to the heavens, arms aloft, displaying my appreciation to those fickle baseball gods.

The 46 Marlins fans at the game were obviously none too pleased with that call; either was manager Mike Redmond. He promptly got tossed and then offered an expletive-packed post game rant after Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Ludwick came through with another big 2-run knock on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win behind Florida native Mat Latos. The Reds then dropped a tough one Saturday, 2-1, although they battled it to the end (and Scott got his first glimpse at Jumbo Diaz’s hard, nasty filth). And then today (Sunday), the Berg crew showed up at Marlins Park decked out in Reds gear to bookend the series, as two-year-old and newly potty-trained Noah Berg went “pee pee potty” nine times (with no accidents at the park or in the car) and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame…and of course, the Reds cracked 15 hits (including another Ludwick blow, this time an RBI double to deep right-center) and took the series finale 7-3.

With the 3 outta 4 down here in Miami, the Reds have climbed back to within five games of the NL Central lead as the Brewers dropped 2 of 3 in St. Louis. Cincy has shaken off some excruciating L’s and scrapped its way to a 4-3 start to this 20-game stretch against teams with losing records. We’re going to need at least an 8-5 finish to this portion of the schedule, and then the squad will be in position to earn its way into the postseason by knocking off the teams ahead of ‘em in the division: Two series each versus Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh loom in the final month of the season.

Bottom line: The Bergs got the job done and the Reds ain’t dead yet! #LetsGoReds

We Believe! 3 Reasons the #Reds Are Still in Good Shape to Play in October

Yeah, yeah, I get it: You’re extremely frustrated with this Cincinnati Reds ballclub right now. They can’t hit. Jay Bruce REALLY can’t hit. They aren’t pitching as well as they did before the All-Star break. Even that #1-ranked defense has had some breakdowns. You’ve been saying things like “I can’t watch this team” and “Mmmff, what a lineup,” and you’ve been taking out your frustration by yelling expletives at the umpires and venting to your friends.

You’re thinking and saying, “It’s over.”

Well guess what? It AIN’T over. I’ve got three reasons why:

1) See video below

The New York Metropolitans somehow found a way to split a 4-game series in Milwaukee this weekend, which means the Reds only lost 1/2 game in the standings as they dropped two of three to the Washington Nationals at Great American Ballpark.

“Six games back” sounds like a lot at this time of the season, especially when there are two teams (St. Louis and Pittsburgh) also in front of you. But in reality, six games ain’t that much. Figure it like this. If the Reds were to win 8 out of 10 while Milwaukee plays even baseball, all of a sudden you’re only three games out. Plus, you’ve still got a bunch more games against the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates.

With the way the Reds have been hitting, I realize the deficit seems insurmountable…but it’s baseball. Anything can happen.

2) Mathematics

Right now, the Reds sit with a record of 52-52. I’d estimate that 89 wins actually may be enough to squeeze into a wildcard spot because the teams in contention for that are no more than 12 games over .500 right now, and an 89-73 record puts you at 16 games over. So that means the Reds have to go 37-21 the rest of the way.

37 and 21.

Here’s how the Reds can do that:

A) Make hay in the next 20 games

Based on team records, the schedule gets easier for the next 20, when the Reds host Arizona (45-60) for 3, go to Miami (51-53) for 4, go to Cleveland (52-53) for 2, host Cleveland for 2, host Miami for 3, host Boston (48-57) for 2, and then go out to Colorado (43-60) for 4. Gotta somehow scratch your way to at least 13-7 in this stretch.

B) Pack their lunch for the final 28 regular season games

Down the stretch the Reds play Pittsburgh 6 times, St. Louis 7 times and Milwaukee 6 times. Mixed in there also is a 3-game set at home against the Mets and 3-game set with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They’ll have their chances. Just gotta pack that lunch and take it to ‘em.

3) Jimmy V and Yogi

Facing terminal cancer in its final stages, former North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvano somehow mustered up the courage and energy to deliver that spine-chilling iconic speech at the ESPY Awards back in 1993. The message: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

It’s a great speech to listen to any time you feel like you’re up against it, whether in your personal life, health-wise or what have you.

I know you’re ready to give up on this Reds team. You may even be like my dad’s long time friend Barry Snyder, who gives up on ‘em when they lose on Opening f***ing Day.

But like Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And right now, heading into this 3-game set with the Diamondbacks, it ain’t over. No, far from it. As bad as it’s been (and I know, it’s been REALLLLLY bad), Cincinnati is only six games out with 58 to play.

For Cincinnati fans, the typical response to a miserable stretch like the Reds are in right now is to give up, to write it off, to stop believing. Well I’m here to say, “Screw that. What good does that do? Why don’t we get behind our team when the going gets tough for once? Believe in the Reds. Believe in Bryan Price. Hell, even believe in Jay Bruce, who, bless his soul, is doing the best he can to handle this vortex of a slump. Even believe in Chris Heisey! Sure, Phillips and Votto won’t be back for a while, but we’ve got some lesser teams coming up on the schedule, and then when they come back, they’ll be able to help down the stretch and into the postseason………….

Yes, I know, you think I’m getting extremely carried away here. And maybe I am. But I’m choosing to take a page out of my brother Andy Swaney’s book and believe…and continue to believe until the final, season-ending out is made.

58 games to go. 37 wins. Let’s do this!

The Jay Bruce Approach: Why the #Reds Right Fielder Has Regressed in ’14

We haven't seen this pose much in 2014.

We haven’t seen this pose much in 2014.

The question on my mind, your mind and most Reds fans’ minds is this: What the hell has happened to Jay Bruce this season?

It’s July 20, and Bruce is hitting .224 with only ten home runs (in 80 games). Not only is the former first round draft pick’s batting average lower than his career clip (.254), the slugging percentage is way, way down–it’s actually under .400 heading into play today vs. the New York Yankees.

To put that into perspective, the following hitters have a higher slugging percentage than Jay Bruce: Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Trevor Plouffe, Erick Aybar, Jose Reyes and Nick Markakis.

It’s a real mind boggler how a guy can be entering his so-called prime (Stat Grandfather Bill James estimates Age 27 is the peak for most ballplayers, and Jay is 27 this year) and be going backwards at a miserable rate. Just last season, Bruce put up numbers worthy of MVP consideration: .262 AVG, 30 HR, 43 2B, 109 RBI and stellar defense in right field. Heading into 2014, there was no reason whatsoever to expect Bruce’s production to dip. He’s young, he stays in tip-top shape and he’s had well over 3,000 plate appearances at the major league level.

I expected Number 32 to be battling for that MVP award this season and the next number of seasons. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, Bruce has looked like a rookie at the plate in ’14.

So what’s the problem?

My theory is simply this: Jay Bruce is making hitting way too complicated while ignoring an easy way out of his season-long slump.

At the beginning of the season, Bruce mentioned to Reds beat writers how he had studied hitting, and how he wants to be more selective, only swinging at the strikes he wants while taking more pitches. Here’s what he told Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty back in March:

“I’m homeruns and doubles. I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to go up there and walk. But if I swing at less pitchers’ pitchers, there are going to be better counts, and more times I’ll have the opportunity to get on base. I just need to take a level-headed approach every day.’’

In the early going, the new approach did result in more walks, as Bruce realized pitchers rarely throw him anything to hit. So he was content to get on base and patiently wait for the mistake pitches he routinely blasts over the outfield walls.

But then, as they tend to do, pitchers got wise. Hurlers started to realize that Bruce likes the ball middle-in, belt high to chest high. If it’s on the outer half, or if it’s anywhere in the zone at the knees, “The Beaumont Bomber” would be content to keep the bat on his shoulder. So those wise pitchers began peppering the outside part of the zone and the low part of the zone early in the count, which in turn left Bruce facing 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts more often than not. And, if you take a look at batting averages in those types of counts for any major league hitter, well, as you can imagine, it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a table with some past data:

Count 2000 2007 2008 2009
First Pitch .336 .344 .337 .338
1-0 .343 .341 .339 .340
2-0 .360 .350 .355 .368
3-0 xxxx .396 .370 .395
0-1 .324 .324 .339 .317
1-1 .325 .327 .329 .332
2-1 .340 .339 .339 .339
3-1 .344 .368 .350 .352
0-2 .160 .164 .160 .156
1-2 .178 .170 .179 .171
2-2 .195 .191 .194 .189
Full .234 .230 .227 .23

As you can see in the table, you have a much better chance of getting a good pitch to hit early in the count or when the count is in your favor. But if you go up there and take a first pitch strike, then foul one off or chase a curveball in the dirt, your chances of success drop exponentially.

And this pretty much sums up why Bruce has not produced in 2014. When we watch Bruce hit, what do we often see? He takes a belt high fastball on the outside corner for strike one. He then chases a breaking ball that starts out in the zone but finishes low and in. He’s down 0-and-2. So now, according to the numbers, he’s about a .160 hitter. He’s at the pitcher’s mercy. The pitcher has three or four chances to get Bruce to swing at a piece of shit outside of the strike zone. And when Bruce is struggling, and he’s trying to do too much, he’ll eventually chase one of those pieces of shit.

Fangraphs.com is a terrific site where we can take a look at very in-depth analysis of a hitter’s approach. Here is Bruce’s fangraphs page. That link will get you directly to his ‘Plate Discipline’ page, which breaks down the percentage of balls he swings at, the percentage of strikes he doesn’t swing at, etc. When you look at these stats, you can immediately see that his Swing Percentage is down from a 48.4% career mark to 45.7% this season; and Bruce did say he intended to be more patient this season, so that number checks out. Now, look at his O-Swing %, which stands for Swing Percentage on Pitches Outside the Strike Zone. He’s on par with career numbers in that category (30.9% career, 29.7% in 2014).

With me so far? Bruce is taking more pitches and he’s been a tad better at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.

However, we need to look at his Z-Swing%, which is the Percentage of Pitches INSIDE the Strike Zone Jay Bruce Swings at. His career mark in this category is 73.9 percent. Bruce has never been below 72% in this category. But in 2014, he’s way down at 68.8 percent. That means he’s taking more strikes, and by the looks of his batting average, he’s taking more strikes early in the count…

Which brings us back to that first pitch fastball on the outside corner. In order for Bruce to turn his season around, he must begin to attack this pitch. Why?

1) He pretty much has to know it’s coming.

Pitchers routinely get ahead in the count with that pitch, as Jay is content to let it go by. And hitting a baseball is hard enough, especially when you have no clue what pitch is coming. But in this scenario, you DO know what pitch is coming. Be ready for it. Go after it. Be looking for that pitch and that pitch alone, on every first pitch AND every non-two-strike pitch from here on out. When you get it, blast it.

2) “The Jay Bruce Shift.”

For the past few seasons, nearly every opposing manager shifts his infield to take away any hard grounder or line drive Jay hits up the middle or through the right side by moving the second baseman into shallow right field and the shortstop and third baseman toward the middle of the diamond. That leaves nearly the entire left side of the infield WIDE OPEN. And guess which pitch is most likely to go in that direction if you time it and square it up? Yep, that outside heater.

3) If you want to get opposing teams out of that shift, you’ve got to start routinely smashing the ball against the grain.

If you start hitting it where the fielders aren’t, the managers will move their fielders, opening up the middle and your pull side. The result: You get lots of hits to get them out of the shift, then once the shift is lifted, more balls become hits that would have been swallowed up by the shift.

4) Bruce has opposite field power.

He can take a page out of former Red Shin-Soo Choo’s book and start to pile up the opposite field home runs.

Further, if you stay with the opposite field approach, keeping your hands back and allowing the ball to travel, you’ll have an extra tick to be able to identify good curveballs to crack and bad curveballs to lay off of.

Bruce has just EIGHT opposite field hits in nearly 300 at-bats. At that rate, the shift will never ever be thwarted.

This is an adjustment Jay Bruce must make in order to become more productive. He’s making it too complicated on himself right now. If you know a certain pitch is coming, take advantage of that knowledge. You can’t keep waiting around for a pitch in your wheelhouse when pitchers will never ever throw it there (unless it’s a mistake). What’s the saying? Don’t work harder, work smarter. That’s your answer, Jay Bruce.