The Best of the Worst?

Billy Butler was just named as the Les Milgram Player of the Year for the Royals. It was well-deserved, too, as Billy hit .318/.388/.469 this season – definitely his best season yet – at the ripe young age of 24.* It wasn’t even particularly close, either, though David Dejesus might’ve made it competitive had he not injured his thumb. Mike just had a great rundown of Billy’s season, and you should check it out if you haven’t yet.

*He and guys like Madison Bumgarner make me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing in the same span of time as they have done so much.

Butler was definitely the best overall player the Royals could show this season (with nods to Soria and Dejesus as runners-up) and he seems to have locked down a position for years to come, barring a big trade. But, as is often said, being the best player on a team like the Royals doesn’t exactly bring a lot of necessary attention.

So, I started wondering. How does Billy’s year stack up against the best players on other clubs? The results might surprise you.

I’m just going to look at the best hitters in order to have the easiest comparison with Billy.

*Note: I only used players that played in 125 games or more. The criteria I chose most on were the stats listed plus games played. Some of those decisions were very hard to make, in which cases I used an already-decided Player of the Year award or simply my gut feeling to break the tie. Stats from Baseball-Reference. And no, Hunter Pence did not have 1173 hits, but he did have 173.

So, there you go. The 30 best players on their respective teams in 2010. Obviously, there are big differences between teams that might make certain players stick out as obviously being the best player/hitter on the team. However, that’s what I wanted to look at. So, how does Billy’s year stack up?

On an individual basis, Billy ranks 8th in BA, 10th in OBP, and 20th in SLG. He played in the 8th-most number of games out of these guys, and in that time he hit the 4th-highest number of total hits and doubles. His BB:K was the 6th-best and he had the 5th-fewest strikeouts. The rest are: 15th in walks, 27th in triples, and 24th in homers. It’s clear that he stands up there pretty well in several categories with the best other teams have to offer. Given an improvement in power, he’ll be a truly great player.

It’s apparent that Billy doesn’t quite measure up to the MVP-caliber guys. As of right now he’s just not in that conversation. So, that removes Cano (NYY), Hamilton (TEX), Cabrera (DET), Votto (CIN), Pujols (STL), and Carlos Gonzalez (COL). A legitimate case can be made for the MVP for all of these guys. The average record of their teams this year was 87-75. A good record, no doubt.

I decided to nail down a category right above Billy, so just out-playing him this year were Beltre (BOS), Mauer (MIN), Konerko (CWS), and Adrian Gonzalez (SD). You could argue that Billy could slide in with this group, but I think they just edge him out. Their teams’ average record was 90-72, even better than the group above.

Now, let’s look at the guys that Billy outplayed over the year. By my count, this includes Markakis (BAL), Barton (OAK), Hunter (LAA), Suzuki (SEA), Pagan (NYM), Pence (HOU), and McCutchen (PIT). The average record of these teams was 71-91.

That leaves 12 players that are in the middle range and not obviously better or worse that Butler this year. The sheer number of players in this category (including Butler) should cause a strong averaging effect, which is shown in the average team record of 80-82. This record itself doesn’t intrinsically tell us much, but the teams included in the average definitely do.

Butler is roughly on par with the best players from the Phillies, Braves, Rays, and Giants, just to mention a few. Yes, the World Series Champions and three other playoff teams relied on hitters of Billy’s skill production level. We could bicker all day about which players he compares best with, but when he’s better at some stats whereas they’re better at others, it starts to even out quickly. So, the point is that, even though Billy played for the fifth-worst team this season, record-wise, his production compares very favorably to the best players on other, sometimes much more competitive, teams. If his power hitting emerges, he’ll vault up the list even farther.

There is one big lesson to take from this. The Royals had more very productive hitters than the more competitive Athletics and Angels this season. Given a couple more young, capable hitters (calling Moustakas, Hosmer, and Myers), the team itself would quickly be in a much better position. Very few of the competitive teams had 3-4 players close to Butler’s production, so having a few guys near that range would definitely be a boost. Once the Kendalls, Ankiels, and Guillens of the world have vacated KC, things will turn around.

Take the good with the bad, though, as even guys like Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez couldn’t carry the Tigers to the AL Central Championship this season. As long as the Royals can develop pitching and defense to match their hitting, they have a chance to be a force in a few years.

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Tags: Adrian Beltre Adrian Gonzalez AL Central Albert Pujols Andrew Ethier Andrew McCutchen Angel Pagan Aubrey Huff Baseball Billy Butler Carlos Gonzalez Daric Barton Evan Longoria Hanley Ramirez Hunter Pence Ichiro Suzuki Jayson Werth Joe Mauer Joey Votto Jose Bautista Josh Hamilton Kansas City Royals KC Kelly Johnson Martin Prado Miguel Cabrera MLB Nick Markakis Paul Konerko Robinson Cano Royals Ryan Braun Ryan Zimmerman Shin-Soo Choo Starlin Castro Torii Hunter

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