Sep 18, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) connects for a single in the eighth inning of the game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Butler Could Break Through in 2014

Jun 26, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Gerald Laird (11) cannot hold onto the baseball as Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) reaches home plate safely in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • jimfetterolf

    Big thing for Billy is having a good lefty following him so pitchers don’t work around him. Billy got nothing but junk low and away last year and screwed with his swing as he tried to adjust to what he knew was coming.

    • moretrouble

      That’s a good point; Billy was “soft” pitched around last year. He paid a price for not having baserunners on and no real threat behind him in the order. Lift is a tricky thing to teach as there is some experimenting to be done with hand and elbow position. Billy’s a talented hitter; he’s one of those guys who can self-correct. Let’s hope he bounces back and has a great year. They need him.

      • jimfetterolf

        Billy probably needs to hit behind Aoki and Hosmer and ahead of Gordon. Gordon has power and will work a walk, so is probably best protection for Billy. Put Perez and Cain after Billy, then Moose, Bonifacio, and Escobar and call it spring training.

        • Dave Hill

          To me, as it stands now, a lineup of Aoki, Gordon, Hosmer, Butler, Perez, Moose, Cain, Bonifacio/Colon and Escobar makes the most sense. I think Perez can be sufficient protection for Butler next year.

          Of course, they could theoretically flip Butler and Hosmer. Could be a lot of baserunners for the middle of the order that way.

          • jimfetterolf

            I’ld use Gordon after Billy because he’s left handed and will take a walk. Perez is a righty and a hacker, so probably drop him below Gordon, but this is a coin-flip. Bottom line for me is I think this line up will work if most of them just meet reasonable expectations, not demanding three career years, just need one from Moose, an easy standard, and average from everyone else.

      • DownUnderFan

        Billy had base runners according to the split stats. But it is also true he did not get good pitches to hit with runners on.

      • DISQUS

        geez what another great post by the well informed moretrouble…..

        • DISQUS

          suddenly I fell more stupid than I did before I read moretrouble’s post…wow

  • DownUnderFan

    Does anyone else think that Yost’s constant pressure to hit more HR had any impact on Butler’s swing (and increased ground balls last year?

    Butler will hit better if he goes back to hitting balls where they are pitched instead of trying to pull them for HR.

    And the same goes for players like Moose, Escobar, Cain and Gordon who also felt the pressure to hit more long balls.

    • Dave Lowe

      I agree with you…too much pressure by Yost to hit HR had a psychological effect. Look for a much better 2014 by Billy.

  • Dave Lowe

    I think with Aoki leading off, you need someone in the 2 hole that will take some pitches. That would be Gordon, except Yost wants Gordon to be a middle of the order hitter. I’m thinking Hosmer is a possibility to hit 2nd, as he also takes some pitches.

    My lineup would be:
    1. RF Aoki (L)
    2. 1B Hosmer (L)
    3. DH Butler (R)
    4. LF Gordon (L)
    5. C Perez (R)
    6. 3B Moose (L)
    7. CF Cain (R)
    8. 2B Bonifacio/Colon (S)
    9. SS Escobar (R)

    • jimfetterolf

      I’m with you. Facing a tough lefty gives a chance to give Gordon a break. Wish we could keep Lough. Maybe they can get by on one UIF or one less reliever, but starting the season with Duffy and Ventura we’ll need a long man.

      • Ed Connealy

        You love Lough so much..

        • jimfetterolf

          He produced last year. Only thing the fantasy players have to hate is OBP. But still, he equaled Myers’ fW and beat Beltran’s, unlike earlier saviors like Kila and Gio with their gaudy Omaha numbers.

          Negative Nancy bloggers preferred Frenchy to give them something to write about nearly every game. Now all they will have to rant against Dayton Moore about may be Moose. Without Yuni, Frenchy, and Getz, that will throw a monkey wrench into content production for some and some of that is David Lough’s fault, the man who got Frenchy DFA’ed :)

          • DISQUS

            jim , I get your love for lough, but it has to end at some point…he doesn’t walk, hardly ever and his career strikeout rate is always in the 15% and virtually no walks…his only saving grace is a good defensive make up and hustle….when and it is WHEN he cant hit his weight in the show he is a terrible option…aka French lite….sorry but there is not a place for him on this team if it wants to win….sorry….I have had my crushes as well…ahhh emil brown where is that dude today…shagging fly balls somewhere I am sure…time to let it go with lough

          • jimfetterolf

            OBP seems the only knock on the guy. Can’t see hatin’ on him enough to go out and trade plus defense for an extra three walks every twenty five games. But some people still like Gio and think we should have signed 2.0 Beltran, so opinions vary.

          • DISQUS

            aoki has performed at a much higher level for many years. his defense is not that much better than aoki’s…..aoki just makes the royals a better team….better all around player…lough only has value as a defender…that means 4th outfielder, maybe. we have so many extra outfielders and I don’t see him taking dyson or maxwells place. one of those two may be traded in the next week or two…

          • jimfetterolf

            Aoki has two years in the majors and his defense is “average”, and that at Milwaukee. Lough racked up good numbers at the K, which will be a challenge for Aoki, as it even has been for the much faster Dyson getting used to the K. Aoki’s sole advantage is three more walks per hundred PAs. If Aoki can maintain OBP, iffy hitting ahead of Hosmer and Gordon, he’ll be the lead off man we haven’t had for awhile, but hope he can improve on his Frenchy’esque 62.5% SB success rate. Just not sure a year of him is worth one of the outfielders plus Will Smith, whom I figured for the #5 starter while the Royals gamed Ventura’s Super 2 status.

            As for who stays, I think it will be Maxwell, right handed with power and can play all three OF spots. If Billy is traded, that gives the possibility of five OFs with a platoon at DH. If Billy stays then two of the OFs need to be traded, perhaps packaged with excess relievers for prospects.

          • DISQUS

            the 6 years in japan are better than anything that lough has done at a much higher level…aoki is aggressive on the paths, but he also was in the same division with 3 of the best catch and throw guys behind the plate…. I would say his defense is a bit better than the average your implying…and dyson takes poor routes to the ball and the k is not the factor there….aoki is a professional and he will adapt..if obp was not what it seems to be then billy beane would never have been as successful as he is and even have a damn movie about him and his love affair with obp…it plays. more times on base with the bats behind him will allow us to score more runs…
            lough is a sinking ship

          • jimfetterolf

            The “average” was the judgement of a Milwaukee blogger who has followed him for two years. Fangraphs’ Def has him a -3.5 and his Bsr -3.9 compared to 11.2 and 1.1 respectively in about 60 less games.

  • Terry LeRoy Payne

    Butler has been had. Pitchers around the league have found what it takes to get him out. Butler will never be much better than in 2013. He might be a little better if Hosmer or Gordan hit behind him, and his OBP could go up if he will lay off some pitchers. It is so sad to watch Butler hit into double play after double play. This would be a good time to trade Butler; but, who would want him?