Billy Butler looked like he was getting pitched around early in the year, and his first month numbers looked fine. The last two weeks have not gone so well though, and now his overall production looks a lot lower than what we have become accustomed to. Let’s look at Billy and see if anything looks wrong.
First off, here are heat maps from baseballheatmaps.com of what Billy has been swinging at. On top is April, and you can see he had a much smaller area of attack versus right handed pitchers. He was only swinging heavily at pitches in the middle of the strike zone. This expanded versus southpaws, but remained mostly strikes. The last two weeks this has changed. Against left handed pitchers he is swinging the most at pitches that are middle-away and avoiding the inside half of the plate. Less power since he is not pulling inside pitches, which sounds a lot like Eric Hosmer right now as well. On right handed pitchers he is swinging at inside and up in the zone, but nothing else. Both heavy swing areas are smaller the last two weeks. If you look at Billy’s Fangraphs page this shows up as well.
Butler is swinging at under 40% of pitches he sees for the first time in his career. His rate is 38.8%, which is almost 4% lower than last year. He is still swinging at a similar number of strikes, but his rate of swinging outside the zone is down. This is consistent with him being pitched around some. The pitch mix he is seeing from opposing pitchers looks about the same as last year. Nothing in any of his rate stats jumps out as a red flag.
Then comes our old friend BABIP. Billy’s balls in play average is .247, which is way below his career BABIP of .324, and I would love to point to this and say that he has been unlucky and all is well with the world. The problem is that I don’t believe it is all luck driven. I won’t say every team, though it seems that way, is shifting on Billy, but more often than not I have seen the short stop playing much closer to second base this year when Butler is up. This has been noticeable on several occasions when he hits something hard up the middle and my brain says single only to be let down when the defender barely has to move to make the play.
Overall I’m not sure that anything looks “wrong” with Billy. He has seen fewer strikes, but it hasn’t seemed to make him expand the strike zone, possibly the opposite in fact. I would like to see him turn on the ball a little more, and he may need to just to try and move the defense to a more straight-up alignment. Still, it mostly looks like Billy is still himself and just needs to adjust a bit to the shift.