Sometimes we lose track of what we do have when we spend all our time looking forward to what we will have. This happens in all aspects of life and unfortunately, when it comes to being a Royals fan, it pretty much comes with the territory when looking to the upcoming seasons because we’re always forced to look for what might be, could be, someday.
There’s been a heavy dose of the “will bes” this off season with the trades of Zack Greinke and David DeJesus, and how Royals fans really shouldn’t be all that concerned because of what is coming behind then in The System. The loss of Greinke, while it may sting this year, doesn’t really matter all that much because there are at least four “can’t miss” prospects coming to take his place that are just as good, if not better. It’s the great part about a rebuilding process, the team is always just *this* close.
That sentiment that surrounded Greinke can almost be applied to the curious case of Billy Butler and how he’s regarded within the Royals community. No, not with the misplaced vitriol that was directed at the former Royals ace, but with the same sort of indifference to what his considerable skills are, especially to this organization.
The flaws are what get pointed out the most. On the message boards, on the Facebook pages, Royals fans only seem to want to mention the negative parts about Butler’s game. The double plays he grounds into, his lack of, um, foot speed, his limited defensive ability, and his lack of power are what get talked about before the fact that he may just be the most complete Royals hitter since Mike Sweeney. The good Mike Sweeney. That guy last showed up eight years ago.
Don’t let the title fool you however, I’m not saying Butler is an All-Star American League first baseman. Well maybe a little. At first you would think there is no way Butler could be considered one of the top first baseman in his own division, let alone the entire American League. But there is a way.
Over the past two full seasons Butler ranks sixth in WAR (6.1) among AL first basemen, and that’s just a touch behind Paul Konerko’s 6.7. You could say that number should be higher if it weren’t for Butler’s rather terrible defense, but taking one look at the other one-baggers on the list, and their defense isn’t helping them any, either.
From a pure offensive standpoint – that’s all the All-Star voting is really based on anyway; that and how much attention ESPN gives your team – Butler measures up no lower than fifth in both wOBA (.371) and wRC+ (125), and Miguel Cabrera, Kendry(s) Morales* and he are the only ones still on the short side of 30 years old.
*not included in the rankings are Morales and Justin Morneau because they both missed most of last season with injuries. I’m not debating Morneau, he’s better. Morales however, were he to be included in the statistical ranking, I would still have a tough time definitively putting him ahead of Butler even though his isolated power and defense are far superior. Morales’ one “great” year at 26 years old, for me, isn’t enough of a sample size to be considered a better measure than Butler’s two good years at 23 and 24.
Yeah, there’s a hill to climb for Butler to be an All-Star, but it’s not impossible. While most on the list are either exiting their prime, out of their prime, or coming back from injury, Butler enters his age 25 season carrying 2 ½ years of solid-to-good performance with all his peripherals going in the right directions.
His stiffest competition may very well end up being Adrian Gonzalez and the voters for Mark Teixeria. Morales may not be ready to start the season. Morneau may not either although he just started playing games again. Konerko is old, Derrick Lee is old, and Daric Barton will never get the support from the mainstream media because they’re all out to find any way possible to prove Billy Beane wrong.
So, is Billy Butler an All-Star?
I think I’m answering “yes”. But this is going to be a rough year, and I do need something to believe in.