For years now, it seems that the Royals have been waiting for Billy Butler to have that breakthrough season that would lead to him becoming a true middle of the order presence. With his frame and his ability to hit doubles, it would make sense that at some point in time, some of those balls that he hammered into the gaps would turn into home runs. In 2012, it seemed as though that breakthrough finally happened, as Butler made his first All-Star team, hit at a .313/.373/.510 rate and appeared to find that long sought after power, hitting 29 home runs.
Then came what appeared to be a down year for Butler. The .289/.374/.412 batting line with only 85 RBIs was certainly a disappointment. Yet, there were signs that Butler was continuing his maturation as a hitter. While he did not hit for nearly as many home runs as he did in 2012, Butler cut down on his strikeout rate while setting a career high in walks. Butler also had a career high line drive rate of 23%, indicating that he was hitting the ball hard for most of last season. Where the problem may have been was that he was not generating any lift with his swing, as Butler also set a high in ground ball rate, hitting more than one ground ball for every fly ball for the first time in his career.Given that he can be timed with a sundial heading down the first base line, that did not bode well for his counting statistics.
As long as Billy Butler rediscovers his ability hit the ball in the air with greater consistency than he did last season, his batting line could be closer to his 2012 production than how he hit in 2013. That increasing line drive rate certainly bodes well for Butler continuing to be a doubles machine, even if he does not develop into a thirty home run a year hitter. But if he can get to around 25 home runs, that may be enough, especially if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas continue to develop.
Another factor that could help Butler rebound is the addition of Norichika Aoki. With two on base machines in Aoki and Alex Gordon atop the lineup, the Royals should be able to score more frequently than they had in 2013, which is likely to help Butler’s counting statistics. Butler is also only 28 years old, and theoretically, should be about to enter his prime. Even in a down season, there may be signs that Butler could turn into the hitter that everyone hoped he could be.
With an improved top of the lineup and a bit more lift in his swing, Billy Butler could have another season similar to how he performed in 2012, and could even turn 2014 into his true breakout season. As a key piece of the lineup, the Royals certainly hope that turns out to be the case.