Through 21 games in April, Billy Butler looks like he may be on track for a career year, power-wise.
His offensive feats have been well-discussed on this site, and in general, we’re fans. But the criticism of “he doesn’t hit many homers” is fair. (Whether it’s important that he doesn’t is another argument entirely, though).
In the first month of the season (with one game to go), Butler has five homers. His previous April high was three homers, set last year.
Over the course of his career, the summer months have been better statistical months for Butler’s power. That fits with the narrative from last season, when 13 of his 19 homers came in the second half. For his career, his second half slugging percentage is better by fifty points.
Butler’s hitting doubles like one would expect, but it’s his home run power so far that could vault him into the elite power hitters in the American League. Five homers isn’t a big amount for a player, but it does put him on pace for a potential 30 homer season. Assuming (for the sake of argument) that he continues the trend of increasing his power as the months get warmer, he could easily cross that plateau. His high for homers in a month is six, accomplished once last July and previously in September of 2009.
Or, Butler may be very fortunate. According to ESPN’s hit tracker, Butler’s five homers fall into two categories. Three land in the “just enough” category, meaning they cleared the fence “by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.” They come in at an average true distance of 387.6 feet. His other two are labeled as “plenty” – so they weren’t wall scrapers, but they weren’t no doubters either.
In 2011, all but one of Butler’s homers cleared 400 feet in true distance. In 2012, not one has hit that mark. Some of those could have been doubles in other parks or not out at all. His homer off Carl Pavano on Friday was judged as a homer in 26 of 30 parks by HitTrackerOnline.com. Only one other homer was judged to be out in more than half of MLB stadiums.
Then again, as the year goes on, he may keep his pattern of hot hitting and increasing power, and his hot start will keep him ahead of a 20 homer pace. If he weren’t also hitting doubles, a power drop may be a concern, but he’s clearly driving the ball. It isn’t like, absent the homers, he’d just be hitting singles. He’s passed his career high in April total bases with one game to go in the month. His .576 slugging percentage is the second highest for one month in his career.
I’ve mentioned in the past that Butler’s the type of hitter who, if he keeps his weight in line and stays healthy, could be penciled in for .300, 40 doubles and 20 homers every year. This season, he may get a shot at 30 homers for the first time in his career. So far, he’s on pace for 39 over a 162 game season. A strong start and hot summer could get him there.