We have ourselves our doppelgänger. At the time of this writing, Jay Bruce has the following line through 308 at bats:
And here’s Domonic Brown‘s line through 269 at bats:
Eerily similar, particularly the triple slash. You could pick nits with the amount of runs and stolen bases, but we’re staring at the same stat line. Even the walks are closer than might be imagined considering how maligned Dom Brown was for his zero walks in May. If Chris and The Doctor were using these guys as a “Who’d you rather” on the podcast, they’d have a hard time not making a decision without resorting to an emotional argument, because the numbers tell the exact same story.
I hope to do two things in the next 700 words: 1) dig deeper into the makeup of each of these guys, then 2) end with a discussion of identifying value in fantasy baseball.
Compare and Contrast
It’s always important to dig deeper into the numbers to test your hypotheses and biases. Our unspoken hypothesis in this case is that Jay and Dom are born of the same genetic material harvested from Paul Bunyan.
Some will point to Dom beginning the year looking like he may fall short of his vast potential once again, only to go on a tear, hitting 12 homers in May. This won’t tell the story, however, as Bruce himself has always been known as streaky player, and it’s his current tear that’s brought his numbers to where they are now.
This season, Bruce has been hitting more line drives at the expense of fly balls. It takes a fly ball to leave the yard, obviously, but that number is now creeping closer to his career norms. Bruce is also swinging at a few more balls out of the strike zone, but he’s also making good contact, and those numbers as well are creeping toward career norms.
All in all, I’ve dug through every number I could find on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference and I can’t find a thing that would suggest that will see anything other than vintage Jay Bruce this season, with no change in approach. It appears the streaky Bruce just started slow, simple as that.
A couple numbers do pop out for Brown however. His HR/FB rate is 26.4% (compared to Bruce’s 21.4%). For comparison, Brown sits right behind Chris Davis in this regard and just ahead of Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez, and Miguel Cabrera. In short, Brown’s fly balls are leaving the yard as home runs at a rate that puts him in elite company.
Related, Brown’s average fly ball distance is 281.79 ft (compared to Bruce at 298.00 ft), which doesn’t place him in that same company. In short, Brown is hitting a lot of homers of a distance that are “just enough” to leave the yard. He hits in a forgiving park, yet I still think we’ll see his HR/FB rate regress some.
But what is particularly interesting when you poke around Brown’s numbers is that he’s swinging at more pitches, both inside and outside the zone. He’s making good contact with those swings, however, and if you take a step back it appears that the picture being painted is an intentional change of approach, in which Brown made a conscious decision to swing earlier in the count in order to hit the ball harder. It could be said that we’re simply seeing him come into his own as a hitter.
Bruce has more of a track record to dissect, but Brown is now showing the potential that he’s teased for every year that Bruce has been in the majors. Why dock Brown (Doc Brown! Get it, Back to the Future fans?!?) for taking two years longer to pull it together. Those guys out there who didn’t go on their first date until age 25 won’t fault a guy for being a late bloomer.
As it stands, we’re talking about two players on pace for 35+ home runs, while driving in runs with an average that won’t kill you.
I have both of them in my primary fantasy league and I’m getting oodles of trade offers for both. Ultimately, I’ll probably end up keeping both, but the huge disparity of their early season value has me thinking strategy.
Jay Bruce cost me $23, while I grabbed Dom Brown off of waivers when another owner gave up on him early in the season. You pay quite a premium for the confidence that comes with Bruce’s longer record of production.
Those in keeper leagues need to seriously consider holding on the Brown, trusting that the can get Jay Bruce production for a fraction of the price. Other situations might be unique, as mine is. My team has recently been hit by the injury stick. Bruce holds tremendous trade value, meaning I can hold on to Brown, yet flip Bruce to replace injured players. Options abound.
No matter your particular circumstance, the takeaway is having 1-2 players like Brown who were rostered on the cheap can make your fantasy season. I realize it’s often difficult to rationalize them over a player with higher name recognition, but sometimes the numbers just don’t lie.