Jay Bruce and Reggie Jackson don’t have much in common other than each has filed taxes declaring they worked for Major League Baseball. When it comes to the results on the field, I don’t see too many similarities. Yet there is one mention on Bruce’s Baseball-Reference page that has me wondering if when the New York Mets signed Bruce before the 2018 season they knew something we didn’t.
On the bottom of every player’s page, there is a Similarity Scores section. From age 24-26, Jackson was most similar to Bruce. Bruce also matched Jackson at age 24 and 25 then again at age 30.
Bruce happened to play for the Mets in his age 30 campaign. This was in 2017 when he slugged 29 home runs for them in 103 games played before a midseason trade sent him to the Cleveland Indians.
Way back in the day, Jackson was also changing teams around this time. His age 30 season was during his season between playing for the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees—a year he spent with the Baltimore Orioles in 1976. A season later, he ended up in the Bronx and would continue to thrive well into the third decade of his life.
At least based on this similarity score, the Mets essentially signed Reggie Jackson when they agreed to bring back Jay Bruce for the 2018 season, right?
This isn’t exactly the case and we all know it. Fortunately, both players debuted at 21 so it’s easy to quickly look at their full career statistics at the time.
Heading into 2018 when Bruce rejoined the Mets, he had hit .249/.319/.472 with 277 home runs, 838 RBI and 1,378 strikeouts. I mention the strikeouts because I have a feeling they’re going to matter. Jackson struck out more times than anyone else in MLB history. For whatever it’s worth at the moment, Bruce is number 50 all-time in a tie with Jason Giambi.
Jackson’s numbers heading into his age 31 campaign have some similarities to Bruce’s. His batting line of .267/.358/.503 far outpaces the former Mets outfielder. However, his 281 home runs and 824 RBI are much closer. The future Mr. October also had only 1,237 strikeouts in his career at the time.
Where Jackson beat Bruce by miles is in OPS+. Different from your regular OPS, this takes a look at the ballparks, the era, and how other batters of the time are performing.
From the time period we’re looking at, Bruce had a 110 OPS+ compared to Jackson at 151. Jackson had already led the league in OPS+ four times in his career at this stage. Bruce, with a career-best 124 OPS+, never did.
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It doesn’t take any research for anyone to realize the Mets weren’t signing a future Hall of Famer when they inked Bruce to a deal. Statistics were different in 2018 than they were in 1977. Despite their similarities and some scores that match, these two were exceedingly different.