Billy Butler has drawn flack in the past for being a singles hitter in a slugger’s body. A small but vocal group of fans have questioned his ability as a run producer, a power hitter and a clutch hitter over and over. Some demand he be traded, some say Clint Robinson can just as easily fill the void at DH.
That noise has diminished a bit in 2012, though. Butler is hitting homers now, and he’s surely headed for a career year in that department. He’s doing this while not changing his approach too much, though he’s striking out more (15.2% vs. 13.7% over his career) and walking less (7.9% vs. 8.8% for his career), but it’s not a drastic change. His overall line sits at .297/.365/.516.
He has 16 homers after one today, his third highest career total but only five off of his career high of 21. Last year, he hit 19 homers. There have been mentions online that Robinson Cano, captain of the American League’s Home Run Derby team might want to choose a Royal and that could easily be Butler. He’s tied for 11th in the AL in homers along with Miguel Cabrera, Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham. He’s hit more than Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko and Albert Pujols.
He’s on the way to a great power year.
That got me thinking about past Royals hitters and homers. The franchise is often an easy target since Steve Balboni‘s team record of 36 homers in 1985 is the lowest of all current franchises. The park has a lot to do with that, but there have also been years where Mike Macfarlane, Mark Teahen or John Buck led the team in homers. Butler’s 16 would have been enough to lead the 1969 and 1971 Royals and would have tied him for the 2010 team lead. It’s only July 1.
I dug up a list of Royals players with more homers than Butler at their all-star break. While it’s a nice walk down memory lane, it also demonstrates Butler’s performance this year as one of the best in team history. Notably, Jermaine Dye‘s 2000 was the last time a hitter was voted onto the All-Star team when he launched 22 homers in the first half. Bo Jackson also started in 1989 (famously) after hitting more than 20 homers before the Midsummer Classic.
Interesting note: Balboni at the all-star break in 1985 had just 14 homers. He finished the year with his notorious 36. Gary Gaetti, the closest to catching Balboni, had 17 at the break but had only played in 62 games. He finished with 35.
Butler has a week before the all-star break and has a chance to put himself in the top five of this list.
How close will he get to Balboni? He’s been a good hitter later into the year in the past, so we might be seeing signs of the start of something great. He may just be getting started.
*Through Saturday June 30.