Billy Butler’s Company


In 2009, Billy Butler became just the sixth player in major league history to hit 50 doubles and 20 home runs in a season before they turned 24 years old.  Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, and the wonderful Royals blog Ball Star, was all over this developing feat last year and just last month published a piece that examined the follow-up seasons of the previous five players to reach the 50-20 plateau.

In addition to the 6 players in major league history, there were two others that managed to hit 50 doubles, but fewer than 20 home runs, in a season before their 24th birthday who have been included in the below as well.  Here is the list:

1934Hank Greenberg0.339/.404/.60063726156
1939Enos Slaughter0.320/.371/.48252512122
1944Stan Musial0.347/.440/.549511412175
1996Alex Rodriguez0.358/.414/.63154136160
2003Albert Pujols0.359/.439/.66751143187
2006Grady Sizemore0.290/.375/.533531128133
2006Miguel Cabrera0.339/.430/.56850226159
2009Billy Butler0.301/.362/.49251121124

As you can tell from the above, Butler’s 2009 season put him in some elite company.  Greenberg, Slaughter, and Musial are all in the Hall of Fame.  A-Rod and Pujols are locks to join them as soon as they are eligible.  Cabrera and Sizemore are both now 27 and have at least six big league seasons to their credit.  Miguel has a career 140 OPS+ and appears to be on a HOF path if he can maintain his level of production.  Grady has HOF talent, but struggled last season and has yet to put up a monster, career-defining season.  Regardless of what the future holds for the active players listed above, when Grady Sizemore is the “worst” member of an elite group, you know you’re in some pretty heady company.

Hank Greenberg was a four time All-Star and had career OPS+ of 158 over 13 seasons.  He won two MVP awards, finished in the top-5 of MVP voting four times, and top-10 six times.  His career OPS was 1.017.

Enos Slaughter was a ten time All-Star with a career OPS+ of 123 over 19 seasons.  He finished in the top-5 of MVP voting three times and the top-10 five times.

Stan Musial was an All-Star for 20 of his 22 seasons with a career OPS+ of 159.  He won three MVP awards, finished in the top-5 eight times and the top-10 fourteen times.  Musial also played his entire career in St. Louis.

A-Rod just finished up his 16th major league season and is still only 34 years old.  He’s a twelve time All-Star, two time Gold Glove award winner, and three time MVP.  He’s finished in the top-5 of the MVP voting six times and currently holds a career OPS+ of 147.  Steriods have definitely cast a pall over his career, but for me he was a HOF caliber player with or without the PEDs.

Albert Pujols has been an All-Star in 8 of his 9 major league seasons and currently has a career OPS+ of 172.  He’s won the Rookie of the Year Award, a Gold Glove, and three MVP awards.  Albert has finished in the top-4 of MVP voting every season except 2007 when he finished 9th.  His career OPS+ 1.055 is actually better than Greenberg’s.

Grady Sizemore has a career OPS+ of 124 in six major league seasons.  He’s won two Gold Gloves and is a three time All-Star.  Grady missed significant time due to injury in 2009 which limited him to 105 games and prevented him from reaching the 20 HR-20 SB plateau for a fifth consecutive season.

Miguel Cabrera has played in seven major league seasons and has a career OPS+ of 140.  Outside of his rookie year in 2003, he hasn’t played in fewer than 157 games in any season since then.  He has three top-5 MVP finishes to his credit in his young career.

No matter what happens during the rest of his career, Billy will always be a part of the above club.  Fortunately for Royals fans, Butler appears ready, willing, and able to improve upon 2009.  If his company is any indicator of future success, at worst, Billy is going to be named to multiple All-Star teams during his career and will most likely finish in the top-5 of MVP voting at some point as well.

Mellinger’s work with respect to 50-20<24 club led him to focus on the follow-up seasons, but it led me down a different path.  In terms of OPS+ Billy’s 2009 season placed him 7th out of 8.  That realization led me to wonder what kind of support each guy had when he turned in the season that got them placed on the 50-10<24 club.  In short, who was helping to lead their respective teams during the above seasons?

1934Charlie Gehringer0.356/.450/.51750711149
1939Johnny Mize0.349/.444/.626441428178
1944Johnny Hopp0.336/.404/.49935911151
1996Edgar Martinez0.327/.464/.59552226166
2003Jim Edmonds0.275/.385/.61732239160
2006Travis Hafner0.308/.439/.65931142181
2006Josh Willingham0.277/.356/.49628226121
2009Alberto Callaspo0.300/.356/.45741811114

It is harder to draw any conclusions about these eight players because they just happened to be the second best hitters, or in some cases the best hitter, when a teammate joined the 50-10<24 club.  It’s not nearly as impressive a list as the above, and that shouldn’t really be a surprise, but it does include two Hall of Famers in Gehringer and Mize and another eventual HOFer in Edgar Martinez.  The good news for Alberto is that every player on this “supporting cast” list has been an above average offensive player in their own right.

Charlie Gehringer1912468All with Detroit
Johnny Mize15158106
Johnny Hopp1411311
Edgar Martinez1814772All with Seattle
Jim Edmonds16132408 Gold Gloves
Travis Hafner814002
Josh Willingham611900
Alberto Callaspo49600

Being a huge fan of doubles I couldn’t publish this article without ranking the duos:

Greenberg & GehringerDET113
Rodriguez & MartinezSEA106
Slaughter & MizeSTL96
Butler & CallaspoKC92
Musial & HoppSTL86
Sizemore & HafnerCLE84
Pujols & EdmondsSTL83
Cabrera & WillinghamFLA78

Billy and Bert fair pretty well in terms of doubles by the duos.  Also of note is that St. Louis has seen three players in their very storied history hit 50 doubles and 10 or more home runs before the age of 24.

So what can we conclude from all of the above?

Billy Butler, based on his elite company, is just getting started on what is a very promising and productive career.  Not a single one of the previous seven players has failed to live up to the standard they set during the season they joined the 50-10<24 club.  All of them have gone on to bigger and better things and there is no reason to believe that Butler will fail to follow that trend.  I called for the Royals to offer Billy an extension during the 2009 season and all of the above only reinforces my conclusion.  When it comes to giving long term deals to young emerging stars, it is better to be a year early than a year late.

We all know Alberto Callaspo can hit.  We knew that before the 2009 season even started, but we didn’t know he would slug his way to 60 extra base hits in his first full major league season.  He got regular playing time in 2009 and to take that away from him in 2010 would be an absolute shame.  He is easily the Royals second-best hitter, is entering his prime, and needs to play every single day.  For all the rhetoric thrown out amongst fans and for all the quotes coming from the Royals front office, Alberto Callaspo is better than Chris Getz.  He is better than Alex Gordon and he is definitively better than a rapidly declining Jose Guillen.

Together, Billy and Bert could advance the Royals offense to heights not seen in a number of years, and the front office owes it to us that they be given the chance.

(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)