Don't Put Billy In A Corner

A little house-cleaning before we get started.

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Now, on to the good stuff…

(Photo by Minda Haas/

Billy Butler has caught the ire of the Royals fan base and there’s little justifiable reason why. At 21 years old, Butler was brought up before he was probably completely ready, and did more than hold his own on a terrible team by producing a .341 wOBA.

That year Butler also played 43 innings in left field, to which the fan base laughed and snarked at the level of defensive prowess Butler, um, had, while the real question should have been: what the heck was he doing out there in the first place?

To this point in his career he’s been “bad” enough to rack up a 4.7 fWAR, and he did that before the age of 25. While not an eye-popping number, most of the cause for it being so low is his less-than-ideal abilities on the bases and in the field, and a sophomore season where he hit .275/.324/.400, and was demoted for a short period. Sophomore slumps happen, they happen a lot, and that season at 22 years old still isn’t all that bad, especially when you consider the season’s some players have been having in a Royals uniform in what is supposed to be their prime years.

In 2009 Butler started to position himself as an elite hitter (still just 23 years old, by the way) with a .369 wOBA and being 20.8 Runs Above Replacement. Sure, even in another lost season for the Royals, Butler’s deficiencies in areas like fielding, -5.3 Fielding Runs Above Average, and base running could tend to overshadow in appearances how good and consistent a hitter he was starting to become, but they didn’t totally wreck his value as some would want everyone to believe.

Then came 2010, the poster-year for everything that is wrong with Butler in the eyes of many and it’s only because of two statistical categories (one of which with some meaning and the other without any), homeruns, and RBI. And we have Yuniesky Betancourt to blame for that.

In 2010 Butler was supposed to take “the leap” into Dominant Offensive Force territory because all signs seemed to be pointing that way. He was three-full seasons deep into his career at that point, and everything about him statistically was trending upward. At least it was for the cosmetic stats and the fans that spend too much of their time worrying about those.

The 15 homeruns and 78 RBI for Butler will forever be remembered by some as the year that Yuni lead the Royals in homeruns and tied for the lead in RBI. Ouch. Even to those that couldn’t care less about the latter statistic, that’s still a shock to read or hear, because it just doesn’t reflect well on the team. Obviously, if Yuni’s leading your team in any category other than lack-of-range, you have a problem.

But was it really a problem? Last season Butler finished with a .372 wOBA, which was “bad” enough for 31stin all of baseball. That’s right. Butler hit into a lot of double-plays, didn’t drive in that many runs because he hit behind Jason Freaking Kendall all year, but, because his walk rate went up and his strikeout rate went down, he still produced enough offensively to have only 30 players have a higher wOBA.

Billy Butler is getting better, and this season he is becoming one of the better hitters in the American League, despite being buried 5th in a lineup behind a black-hole, again. The stats speak well enough for themselves, but a couple lists to see how he compares to other DH’s will do better:

Billy Butler .407
Bobby Abreu .404
David Ortiz .395
Victor Martinez .367
Jack Cust .359

David Ortiz .437
Victor Martinez .376
Billy Butler .372
Bobby Abreu .363
Jason Kubel .360

David Ortiz 2.5
Billy Butler 1.4
Victor Martinez 1.2
Bobby Abreu 1.1
Jason Kubel 1.1

Maybe Butler just isn’t “clutch” enough for some Royals fans, though, a .450 OBP with runners in scoring position wouldn’t seem to be a bad number. Maybe he doesn’t hit for enough “power”, which would be a fine argument I guess, if it weren’t the equivalent of complaining when someone gave you a Corvette because you didn’t like the color.

Billy Butler plays in a park that is notoriously tough on hitters, where the ball doesn’t carry until it gets hot, and has extremely cavernous gaps. He’s shown improvement, sometimes significant, has shown the ability to make adjustments, and he’s still just 25 years old. He is the best hitter on the Royals and the best hitter in their lineup. Next season it may very well be Eric Hosmer, but for the time being, it’s Butler. There are things with this team that should draw the ire of Royals fans, like Chris Getz.

Billy Butler isn’t one of them.


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Tags: AL Central Billy Butler Eric Hosmer KC Royals

  • KCRoyalman

    My gripe is and will continue to be, he hits too many singles and needs to hit more doubles. I realize he plays in a cavern but criminy. He clogs the bases and the people in front of him aren’t bad and they are driving in runs. I appreciate his OBP, him as a player, him as a human but he still has room to improve by leaps and bounds. Fortunately he has time to do so and if this article is negative people need shot. I am the king of the blue kool aid drinking fans but I am way more negative on this subject than you are :)

    • Michael Engel

      The only player I’ve written more about than Butler is probably Greinke…but I ahve to disagree.
      Yes, Butler’s doubles have been low – THIS year.
      From 2009-2010 not one single hitter had more doubles than Butler. He added 36 homers in that period as well, which, while it isn’t elite, it’s a nice supplement. I’m sure if Butler wanted to hit homers, he’d be able to do so but his batting average would suffer. Maybe it’d be an even trade, that he’d gain as much in slugging and run production as he’d lose in average, but I’d rather he keep his approach at this stage – two to three years before the generally accepted “peak” of a batter’s career – and see if the power develops rather than change what got him to this stage.

      Now the speed….well, can’t help him on that one, haha.

  • doublestix

    also unless I am mistaken wOBA is not park adjusted which helps Billy’s case even more.

  • jim fetterolf

    So many possibilities, but I’ll keep it short.

    “Billy Butler is getting better, and this season he is becoming one of the better hitters in the American League, despite being buried 5th in a lineup behind a black-hole, again.”

    The ‘black hole’ that Billy trails is tied for the club lead in HR and RBI. We could suggest that Billy gets so many walks because, in the 5 slot, he has hit ahead of the black hole occupied by Aviles and Betemit. With Moose up, we’ll see the semi-intentional walks drop as pitchers take their chances with a .300 BA from a ground ball hitter.

    “There are things with this team that should draw the ire of Royals fans, like Chris Getz.”

    Good OBP, good defense, top ten RISP, works a walk, gives quality at bats, runs well, doesn’t need to be PR’ed for. Ron Polk’s system, as used by Lee Judge, ranks both Escobar and Getzie ahead of Butler on total contribution to a game.

    On Butler in general, since bloggers tend to be forming a defensive circle around him, whether here, at the Star, or at Royals Review, he is a fine DH and should be kept unless he can be traded for a young catching or 2B prospect and a potential #2 starter, half the value of Greinke. If we get the offer, trade him, if not, keep him and trade Clint Robinson and Kila for value.

    • Kevin Scobee

      Jeff Francoeur: .316 OBP. Black. Hole.

      Getz: nothing about that “system” needs to be taken seriously. Getz is a bad player.

      • jim fetterolf

        “Jeff Francoeur: .316 OBP. Black. Hole.”

        OBP doesn’t score runs or prevent them, HRs, RBIs, and assists at the plate do.

        “Getz: nothing about that “system” needs to be taken seriously. Getz is a bad player.”

        That seems the conventional wisdom from the statheads, but a lot of that is that defense is difficult to quantify. On Royals Review I’m still hearing that Aviles is an average major league 2B based on his record in 2nd grade T-Ball:) With Getzie, he has OBP so should get love from SABR, but doesn’t. He could be better and I might not argue with bring Gio up and benching Getz, but I see nothing to suggest that he is ‘bad’.

        As for the Polk system, I think it superior to the SABR alternative, as it attempts to value what the eyeballs see, so factors in exceptional defense and blocked pitches with a runner on third, or even actual runs scored and driven in. When games are decided by cumulative OBP rather than runs, Ill discount defense and speed and clutch hitting. We’ll just have to disagree on this.

      • jim fetterolf

        I would note that Frenchy, the ‘black hole’, has managed to score 28 runs and drive in 40 while Butler is at 31 and 29. OBP doesn’t seem to translate to runs generated, in any of the three batting order slots Butler has tried this year. Billy has 15 doubles, 6 hr; Frenchy is at 16 and 9 with 2 triples and 7sb while Billy has 0 and 1, respectively. Guess I’m disagreeing about Frenchy, as well as Getz.

        • Daniel

          Ugh. Polk’s system is fun, but it’s ultimately meaningless. I enjoy those Star columns, but Sabermetrics as a whole are light year’s better than Polk’s system. I suppose you prefer corded telephones and the horse-and-buggy as well? ;)

          RBIs and Runs Scored are a fine way to judge a lineup and a team, but they’re a *terrible* way to judge a single player.

  • jim fetterolf

    “Sabermetrics as a whole are light year’s better than Polk’s system”

    Saber is good for offense, because it deals with easily quantifiable items, like Ks, BBs, hits, errors, things that the official scorer can define. It doesn’t seem much use at quantifying defensive value, because the official scorer doesn’t give a ‘prevented hit’ for an outstanding play by Esky in short left, or a ‘great scoop’ by Hosmer on a two-bouncer from Getz as he’s being bulldozed by a base runner, or a ‘manly stop’ when Treanor crumples a base runner at the plate who scores against Buck or Olivo with their fear of contact and sissy swipe tags. It all ultimately gets back to eyeballs and Polk’s system and Lee Judge’s game analysis tend to agree with what I see. I’m about the same age as Lee, so some of it may just be old dogs and new tricks, but some of it may be that sabermetrics has quite a bit more work to do to accurately reflect the game on the field. Good discussion, thanks.

  • Blaze276

    I guess I am too old school in that I expect the 3,4,5 an 6 hole hitters to knock in runs. You cant win games with OBA or wOBA. In the end, Butler is only going to play and get paid well if he can produce runs whether it is with KC or some place else. When Butler is compared to other DH by my “system” he is doing well. Can the Royals afford to pay him if he is just “doing well”

    ab rbi runs hr
    ortiz 237 43 42 17
    martinez187 35 26 6
    abreu 237 29 26 2
    butler 238 29 31 6
    dunn 200 29 20 7
    matsiu 190 25 15 4
    hafner 117 22 17 5
    cust 180 19 16 2
    thome 76 12 7 4

  • Lenny

    To everyone talking up Frenchy: who have you been watching? Frenchy is slumping hard right now, i can’t even count the number of innings he’s killed. Seems like every time i turn to a game Billy is leading off an inning, pretty tough to rack up those RBI’s when you lead off the inning every at bat.

    The only thing i don’t get is why we don’t flip Billy and Frenchy in the order, Alex then Billy were great together in the lineup, Hosmer then Billy could be even better.

  • jim fetterolf

    “The only thing i don’t get is why we don’t flip Billy and Frenchy in the order”

    Tried that, then they changed for some reason.

    “pretty tough to rack up those RBI’s when you lead off the inning every at bat.”

    Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy all have more RBIs than Billy and Hos is catching him. Billy would probably have more, but since he’s dropped to the 5 slot, he’s easy to pitch around with Aviles or Betemit behind him. Now that Moooose is protecting him, I think we see Billy’s BBs drop as pitchers take their chances with him rather than putting a runner on for a legitimate power threat.

    Billy’s a solid hitter and a good guy, according to Sam Mellinger’s recent blog on him, but he’s no longer a star on a horrible team, now he’s got three, four, or five guys around him that are more dangerous than he is and they all play positions, three of them at a plus level. Everyone else on the team also runs faster, including the two catchers. Billy is good at the four or five plate appearances he gets per game, is awful during the plays when he’s on base, and for most of the game he’s on the bench, watching. Just the way it is.

  • Eric

    Given the current lineup, I would pitch around Billy all day long. I would definitely pitch to Frenchy. Everybody knows he is prone to swing at some bad pitches and more likely to get himself out. Moose is unproven and hasn’t seen the pitchers yet. Pitchers have been pitching around Billy all year long and will continue to do so. I think this is the main reason for Billy’s lack of production.

    • Greg

      I can’t agree more. Who pitches to a well-established doubles machine so they won’t have to pitch to a rookie? I’d pitch around Hos all day long to get to Frenchy too. The kid is proving himself, although he had a three game slump in Anaheim, and only really has trouble handling/laying off of the high cheese. Frenchy looks like a tall, skinny outfield playing Miguel Olivo. Swinging out of his shoes at fastballs around his shoulders, then flailing hopelessly at sliders away. I thought he figued out how to look for his pitch? I guess that only lasted a little more than a month.

      • Greg

        OOPS. What I meant was… who pitches to Billy so they don’t have to pitch to a rook?

        • jim fetterolf

          The rook is probably more scary to a pitcher than the Aviles/Betemit combo that preceded him. I think we’ll see Butler’s walks drop as more pitchers take their chances with a .300 hitting singles machine who is around fourth on the team in doubles and homers and last in triples. Now, Moose will get the walks with Treanor behind him.

      • Tom Barkwell

        I think Billy’s been just a hair off for bettter than a month now, and still he has good results.

        My sense is he’s about to get locked in again. I wouldn’t want to be an opposing pitcher when that happens.

        • Kevin Scobee

          I agree with you on that one, Tom.

          • Michael Engel

            What was it, three weeks ago that I wrote something about Butler, noting that his BABIP was around .270 (career it’s around .320ish off the top of my head).

            He’s since increased his batting average, production, and has gone yard three times.

            How many line drives has he hit right at someone? Or drives that get caught in the outfield? The first two months he was very unlucky. That’s usually a copout, but his batted ball stats have been consistent with his career numbers, but more have been caught. Now it’s starting to correct and he’s producing.

            If he were hitting .335 instead of .300 with ten more RBI would this even be an issue?

  • John Lofflin

    Right on point Scobee. The fans here are so enamored with the future, with what MIGHT be someday (If you are a Royals fan this all too familiar…) they don’t recognize what they already have. One poster on the Star article about Billy said something so dumb I can’t get it out of my head. He said he was mad at Billy for “keeping his average about .300 because that was keeping us from getting a look at Coleman (I think) who is still in Triple A. Now, that is about as bad as it gets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Let the fat boy hit.”

    I’m sure Oakland or Boston would be in the market for Mr. Butler. They subscribe to the theory that stolen bases are not a good risk most of the time, that hitters who have patience and only swing at good pitches help the ball club, that driving the ball to the gaps wins games. Seems to me Frenchy has hit into more double plays this year than Billy.

  • John Lofflin

    Let me correct something. It was Clint Robinson Butler is holding back by hitting .300. Sorry, the logic there escapes me.

    RBIs measure what the players around a player do. Really, no sense discussing that.

    Heard Ryan calling the game a few weeks ago with Denny. He’s going on and on about Getz. He says to Denny, “Denny, you have to say something positive about a guy who looks at so many pitches.” The moment of silence that followed was nearly as good as eye rolling. Finally, Denny said, “Well, yes.” Getz grounded to second on the next pitch.

    We’ll see if Hosmer is a hitter second time through the league. And Moose, too. The grass will always be greener in Omaha, I’m afraid.

  • jim fetterolf

    “I’m sure Oakland or Boston would be in the market for Mr. Butler.”

    If they offer another Odorizzi and a top 100 2B or C, we should probably take it. Make Melky the DH and get an increase in doubles, triples, homers, runs, rbi, stolen bases that can also back up three OF positions, then bring up Cain and his plus defense to play center. Team currently has three major holes; SP, C, and 2B that we don’t have obvious fixes for in-house. If trading Billy fixes two of them, it’s worth it. If we can’t get that much return, then Billy stays in the five or six slot for another fifteen years, at least until Cuthbert pushes Mooose off third and into DH:)

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