Rumor Mill: Billy Butler to the Yankees


As much as baseball fans love the regular season with all the day-to-day offerings that it brings, one thing baseball fans love even more is the offseason, with all it brings. Seriously. If our monthly traffic numbers prove anything to us it is this: baseball fans love them some Hot Stove talk.

There wouldn’t be much of a baseball offseason without the free agent intrigue, the perceived overvaluing of prospects, and the flimsy trade proposals from big-market to small-market teams that involve an underachieving, oft-injured pitcher being traded for a 25-year-old hitter with a career .354 wOBA. (Of course, that number is skewed a bit after a 20-point decrease in 2011 because the organization messed with that hitter’s approach, having him focus on driving in “more runz!”)

Oh wait, did that one hit a little too close to home? Well, it should, because that’s the latest “Yankees need a hitter so let’s trade this guy with decreasing value for him” in the form of Phil Hughes for Billy Butler.

Almost immediately after the Yankees completed the trade with the Mariners that sent Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, the rumor machine switched to how the Yankees would replace the right-handed bat at DH in their lineup. Butler, often the ire of Royals fans for whatever made-up reason they have this week, would seemingly fit well with New York because of his near elite on-base and contact skills, despite whatever lack of raw power he may have.

But does something like this trade makes sense for the Royals right now?

In short, sure, if it wasn’t Phil Hughes.

This being Mission 2012TM and all (or something like that) it would seem to be an opportune time to trade one of, if not the most, valuable trade chip (non-Hosmer division) the Royals have for the potential of a frontline starting pitcher. When looking at the 2012 ZiPS projections*, you can see that while the offense is being carried by just three players, the starting rotation is being carried by the relievers. Better put: the rotation projects to be pretty awful.

*Yes, these are just projections, and will most likely will not reflect the actual year-end statistics for each Royal in 2012. It is just assessment data. I get it that baseball is not played by computers. Thanks.

This isn’t entirely shocking news because there’s a reason the Royals have been mentioned in almost all rumors this offseason involving available starting pitchers. But as was the case of why the team shouldn’t have given up Wil Myers for Gio Gonzalez, or any of the starting pitchers that have been traded to this point, the Royals need to avoid overpaying for a position of need because of some perceived “window of opportunity”.

Over the last three seasons – his age 23, 24, and 25 season no less – Butler ranks third among designated hitters with a .370 on-base percentage, and fourth with a .364 wOBA. For all those fans that love them some RBIs, he’s also fourth in that category with 266. That’s 31 less RBIs than positional leader over that same time-span, David Ortiz, or an average of just 10 a year. Ten.

In the context of all American League hitters from 2009 through 2011, Butler ranks 11th, 21st, 20th, and 11th in OBP, wOBA, wRC+, and (gasp) RBIs, respectively. And, he did all of that mostly as the only real threat in the lineup, hitting behind guys with an extreme aversion to getting on base, and he’s not yet 26 years old.

I’ve written this before but it bears repeating: sometimes fans get caught up more in what a player can’t do instead of what a player can, or is, doing. (This is not the case with Chris Getz. Promise.)

Butler’s undervaluing has been pointed out a number of times at KoK, but until fans stop falling over themselves to trade Country Breakfast – as they were yesterday on Twitter when this rumor dropped – for a pitcher of the same age with a career 4.27 xFIP, we’re going to have to keep going over this.

Positional handcuffs aside, Butler is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. If the Royals do end up traded him, fine. But let’s hope when they do it is for a player of actual value first. And let’s all understand, for once, exactly what it is the Royals would be letting go.

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