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I’ve got the power?


September 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) hits a home run during the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Am I the only one anxious to see how Billy Butler’s power numbers hold up in 2013?  I like to think some maturity and what seemed to be some extra effort in swinging for the fences will hold up moving forward, but I do think there is a minor cause for concern and a very real chance at regression in power for Billy this year.

I’m basing this on a track record of a fairly low ISO (isolated power) since coming into the league. His career number sits at .168, which, looking at all major league batters who qualify as first basemen (according to Fangraphs), ranks him 35 in ISO from 2007 (rookie year) through last season. Taking a quick peek at those who qualify as DH over that same stretch, Butler ranks 22 of 25.

That’s not to take away from his value as a player. His career fWAR is a 9.9, which places him fourth among DH’s, behind David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, and Jim Thome. To be fair, Damon mostly played outfield during those years, giving him a little more defensive value than the others.

Narrowing the timeframe a bit more (looking only at 2010-2012), and bringing the comparison more current, Butler (fWAR of 7.9) is 2 of 14 at DH, behind only Ortiz (9.7). However, looking at ISO for 2010-2012, he ranks 7 of 14, in the middle of the pack.

There’s no doubt Billy is a very valuable hitter, but there’s a lot to be said for having a legitimate power threat in the middle of a batting order, and right now, KC has some question marks in that area (Alex Gordon has a higher career ISO, but he’s likely to lead off). Of course, Butler came through big-time in 2012, bashing 29 home runs and being named to the All-Star team.

What happened in 2012? Butler had an ISO of .197, nearly 30 points higher than his career mark, and his highest since posting a .191 in 2009. That year, Butler stroked 51 doubles and 21 homers with an OPS of .853. In 2012, Butler cleared for the fences more. As we know, he homered 29 times, but in comparison with 2009, his doubles slipped from 51 to 32. He had an OPS of  .882 in 2012, up nearly 30 points from that 2009 season, due to an increase in both OBP and SLG. By the way, his highest fWAR also came in 2012, along with that high mark in ISO.

All that said…prior to 2012, his career high in home runs was that 21 from 2009. Throwing out 2007 (he only played 92 games), his other HR totals are 11, 15, and 19. Not a track record that would suggest another season in the 30 home run range, but 2012 was Billy’s age 26 season, which means he’s coming into his prime these next few years. Still, is that type of power sustainable?

Billy Butler rounds the bases after hitting his 100th career home run. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Bill James projections (available at Fangraphs) have Billy hitting more doubles in 2013, back up into the forties, with 43. They also show a HR total of 24, meaning less clear-the-wall power out of Billy. The James projections show Billy posting a slightly lower ISO of .190, which makes sense with the dip in his home run total.

The community projections, made by fans, have “Country Breakfast” at 41 doubles and 28 homers with a .210 ISO, which would be a career high. It seems the fans are banking on continued improvement as a hitter during Billy’s prime seasons, where the Bill James numbers are playing it safe.

If you want to know what I think (not that I’m an expert), I predict he’ll be somewhere in between. I’ll say Billy hits 35 to 40 doubles with somewhere between 25 and 29 homers.  Based on his track record, it’s hard project whether he can sustain (or improve upon) his 2012 home run total. Given how young he was when he put up those prior numbers though, it’s not a stretch to say he’s just now coming into his own with his power stroke.

However things shake out in 2013, it’s a safe bet Billy will be one of the more consistent hitters in the AL and once again put up productive numbers. At age 27, I expect him to stake his claim as one of the better pure hitters in the league. Here’s hoping that continued success at the plate keeps coming with a little extra pop.