Underappreciated: Billy Butler Was, Delmon Young Still Is

Baseball America’s Ben Badler led their ESPN SportsNation Chat today.  You can click here to read the entire transcript, but I wanted to post Badler’s response when he was asked about Billy Butler.

Steve (Kansas)
What are your thoughts on Billy Butler? One of few ballplayers to ever hit 50+ doubles and 20 HRs under age of 24.

Ben Badler (2:55 PM)
He’s always been able to hit and now he’s become one of the best young hitters in the game. When players like Butler (or maybe now Travis Snider is another example) get brought up to the big leagues at age 20-22 and don’t immediately perform, it tends to skew people’s perceptions of them irrationally, but he can mash.

I couldn’t agree more with Badler’s statement.  I personally have always believed in Butler’s ability to hit, and it isn’t like he was a bust before breaking out last season.  In 2007 at age 21 he hit 0.292/.347/.447 for the Royals.  He followed that up by hitting 0.275/.324/.400 in 2008 at age 22.  He slipped a little in his 2nd season but still turned in an OPS+ of 93 which is pretty solid for a guy in his early 20s who was also learning to play 1B on the fly.  Most of you reading this are already aware of what he did in 2009, but the slash stats make me smile so here they are again:  0.301/.362/.492.

He will turn 24 years old on April 18th and has several seasons ahead of him before he reaches his prime years of 27 or 29 depending on who, and which statistical models, you believe.

There is another player in the AL Central who is terribly underappreciated these days.  Delmon Young turned 24 in September and has hit 0.290/.322/.416 in parts of four major league seasons.  Yet somehow, Delmon is viewed as this massive bust and disappointment when in reality he is still in his early 20s and has already established himself as an average offensive player.

Like Billy Butler, Delmon was asked to learn a new position on the fly in the major leagues.  In Young’s case he had to learn that position in the worst possible environment, the Metrodome.  He spent his first two seasons with Tampa Bay playing RF but was moved to LF when he was acquired by the Twins.  He is better suited to play RF and his 6.0 UZR/150 supports that assessment.  In LF he has been bad, with a -18.9 UZR/150, but to me that is understandable considering he has only played the position for two seasons and has been learning on the job against the white-gray roof of the dome.  He’s never going to win a Gold Glove Award, but he should steadily improve in LF and the move outdoors to Target Field will help him make those improvements.

I called it last year.  I was wrong, but it’s not going to stop me from going to the well once again.  Delmon Young will break out this season for the Twins.

Billy Butler already had his breakout year, but many fans (and bloggers) think that all we have in KC is Zack Greinke.  I have no doubt in my mind that Billy will make sure that perception is changed after the 2010 season.  Along those lines, I still don’t understand why Joakim Soria gets very little love among fans of other teams.  It’s probably the same reason people thought Butler was a disappointment.  They just weren’t paying attention.

(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided.com’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Billy Butler Delmon Young Kansas City Royals KC Minnesota Twins MLB

  • http://royaltower.blogspot.com keith

    Young has slowed down a lot since he got to the Twins, that’s why his UZR has slipped. moving to RF likely won’t help him…he’s simply a bad defensive outfielder at this point. Also consider the plate discipline, that is going to be extremely hard to overcome. the odds are stacked against Young. that’s not to say he can’t be decent at some point, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    • Wally Fish

      He just turned 24 so he can recapture some of his speed with a committment to conditioning. RF is his natural position and a move back there would certainly help him regardless of whether he is slower.

      In watching the Twins the last 2 years his problem hasn’t been speed in the OF, but poor jumps and poor angles. Both of those things can be attributed to the fact he is not a natural LF. From my own experience there is a world of difference between playing LF and RF (I much prefer CF because that is my natural position). Just moving into Target Field will help him regardless, as will regular playing time which he figures to get now that Carlos Gomez is with the Brewers.

      He significantly improved his plate discipline his 1st 3 big league seasons before regressing last year. I am 100% confident that the 2009 regression was because he was not getting regular playing time and had to fight to get into the lineup, which led to him pressing more than he normally would. He will never be the most disciplined hitter, but he has shown he is capable of improvement already in his young career.

      We obviously have very different opionions of Delmon Young, but your comments back up the point I was making. People are far too quick to write off the elite prospects when they don’t set the world on fire once they reach the majors.

      Have a wonderful Christmas and thanks for reading!