During most of his tenure with the Kansas City Royals, Billy Butler has been their best hitter. In a lineup that was, at times, devoid of major league talent, Butler stood out as one of the few professional hitters on the roster. Yes, he may not hit for the power that had been expected aside from his excellent 2012 season, but there is still value in a .300 hitting doubles machine.
However, when Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas joined the Royals permanently, it was expected that Butler would eventually have to pass along the mantle as being the Royals best hitter to one of them. While Moustakas has disappointed thus far in his career, Hosmer appeared to turn the corner. He was one of the Royals best hitters in the second half of the season, and, based on OPS+, was actually the Royals best hitter over the course of the season. In the past five seasons, this marked the second time that Butler had not led the Royals in that category.
This time, Butler may not regain that title. Following his disappointing 2012, Hosmer looked more like the player that he was expected to be following his rookie season. From June 1st through the end of the season, he produced at a .318/.367/.494 rate, hitting all but one of his home runs during those four months. Should Hosmer be able to produce at that rate over an entire season, he would be a Gold Glove caliber first baseman who also could hit 25 home runs, reach double digits in stolen bases and could approach 100 RBIs with the improved top of the order.
While Steamer’s projections for the 2014 season still have Butler as the anticipated best hitter for the Royals next season, Eric Hosmer is right on his heels. If those projections prove to be correct, then Hosmer would produce at a .288/.353/.462 rate, hitting 21 home runs. Those numbers may even be a conservative expectation. With his production last season, it is possible that Hosmer could hit .300 as the 2014 season serves as his springboard towards an excellent career.
Should Hosmer produce as expected, then Butler may not reclaim his title. With his contract set to expire in 2015 and Hosmer’s probable maturation at the plate, it is conceivable that Hosmer will retain the mantle as the Royals best hitter for the next few years. With the potential talent in the lineup, that title may no longer be a hollow accomplishment.
The torch is about to be passed from Billy Butler to Eric Hosmer. In fact, we may find out that it already has been.