Referring to Billy Butler as a first baseman has been roughly akin to referring to me as a writer. Technically, Butler is a first baseman in the infrequent times when his position is not ‘designated hitter,’ just as I am a writer in that I can occasionally form a coherent statement when I press random keys on this keyboard. Yet, to call either of us by those designations is typically more than a stretch of the imagination.
Butler’s Doctor Strangeglove defensive reputation at first was well earned. During the time that he was the Royals’ primary first baseman, to state that Butler was below average would have been a dramatic understatement. Despite being in his early 20′s, Butler had the range and mobility of a statue, as evidenced by his amazingly low range factor and terrible fielding percentage. Considering that as Butler got older, those defensive issues would get progressively worse. Defensively, his best position was destined to be a designated hitter.
While Billy Butler has not seen time in the field with frequency that he had through the 2010 season due to the arrival of Eric Hosmer, he has not been the same butcher at first that he had been in the past. While Butler has played only 38 games at first base since becoming the Royals primary designated hitter, he has improved. Instead of posting below average numbers, or worse, in virtually every defensive metric, Butler has improved his defense to the point where he is considered above average in total zone fielding runs. Since Butler rated at as a definite negative there just two years ago, he has certainly made strides.
Yes, it is a very small sample size. Yes, Butler is only likely to spend time with a first baseman’s glove on his hand when the Royals are playing in National League parks. Yet, there is still an indication that Butler has actually improved his defense to the point where he may not be a calamity on the field.
The only way that Billy Butler is likely to see extended time at first base is if Hosmer suffers an injury that keeps him out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Yet, seeing that Butler is at least getting better defensively, and apparently putting time into practicing his defense despite his infrequent appearances at the position, is just a sign of the effort that he has been putting in. Now, Salvador Perez may be able to remain primarily behind the plate should something happen to Hosmer.
Billy Butler may not see more than a handful of games at first base this season, yet in those games, he may be better than expected defensively.