Butler has heated up at the plate, but still only has 5 homers in 2013. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
I expressed some concern back in January regarding Billy Butler’s power numbers heading into this season…but I couldn’t have imagined a decrease as drastic as this. And it’s not just Billy, it’s the entire team.
I know, I’m not pointing out anything new here…but while this lack of home run power has been in our faces all season, it really hit me when I braved the heat and went to game 3 of the series against the division leading Detroit Tigers. When our big guns made it to first base, and I looked at Alex Gordon or Billy Butler standing next to Prince Fielder…it really drove home the point. Fielder has 12 homers, and just across the diamond I could see Miguel Cabrera manning third base with his 18 home runs. And our team leader has…6. Really?
Through Tuesday’s games, the Royals had a total of 32 homers (of course Cain’s heroic blast makes that 33). So that places the team dead last in the American League. The next worst team on the list? The Minnesota Twins with 54 team homers…so…we’re not even close.
What gives? The obvious thing to do is blame the pre-George Brett hitting philosophy. Was that the problem? It could be…we haven’t had a huge sample size since Brett stepped in on May 30, but it’s worth taking a look at.
The Royals played 50 games from opening day through May 29. During that stretch, the team racked up 28 homers (an average of 0.6 per game) and had a SLG of .375 with an OPS of .689. From May 30 through June 11 (not counting the June 12 game) the Royals hit 4 homers in 12 games for an average of 0.3 per game. The team SLG is down to .324 and OPS down as well, to .620.
Granted, both of these totals include parts of a horrible stretch of games, from May 6 through 29, which saw the team put up a 4-19 record, going from 17-10 all the way down to 21-29. Not good. However, even through that 23 game skid, the team still posted a .350 SLG and .646 OPS – better than the stretch since Brett came on board.
Brett’s brought a lot of energy to the team, can he help with home runs? Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Lets give Brett the benefit of the doubt and say it took him a week to gain any meaningful time with the batters. The Royals got hot against the Twins and from June 5 through 11 put up a record of 6-1. During that small span of time, the team has a SLG of .374 and .695 OPS. They still aren’t hitting for much pop, but the OPS is getting there, largely due to some patience at the plate and a little uptick in OBP. Still…not a lot of power, although it does SEEM like it’s coming around with 3 homers in that 7 game stretch (after Wednesday’s game, it’s 4 homers in 8 games). Two of those 4 belong to Lorenzo Cain, 1 to David Lough, and 1 to Sal Perez.
We’re getting a little more pop, and it’s not fair to single anyone out, really…but what about Gordon and Butler? The two guys we most expect great production from have not homered since May 9 and May 14, respectively. I can cut Gordon a little slack…he’s the type of hitter that just gets it done…singles, doubles, and so on. I think he’s always going to have a fluctuating home run total from year to year…and he could easily still hit 15 or so this season. Maybe more if he gets on a roll at some point.
Butler, though, is a guy who gets paid to hit and to drive in runs. And I will never question his ability at the plate. Look, the guy is a natural born hitter. Even if he’s not hitting for power, he’s at least HITTING. And getting on base at a .379 clip this year as well. His SLG, however, is just a shade over .400 (sitting at .402) and his ISO is down to .134 so far, which is the lowest number he’s put up since a .124 ISO back in 2008 – a season which saw him go back to Omaha for 26 games due to a lack of production. In that season, he only managed to hit 11 homers and SLG .400 in 124 games.
Cain’s got two homers in the last 8 games…will his power surge mean more pitches for Butler to hit? Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t get me wrong, Billy is producing (or his BBQ sauce is, anyway). Of the everyday players, he trails only Gordon in OPS and leads the team in OBP and RBI. But we want to see Billy hitting the ball hard. If he’s not on pace to hit 30 (or 25, or even 20) “Billy Bombs” (as Rex Hudler likes to say), we need to see the 45 to 50 doubles he used to hit. Right now, I’d say he’s more on pace for 15 to 18 homers and about 35 doubles or so. Is that enough from an “elite” designated hitter? I don’t know. It CAN be, depending on the bats around him. And maybe that’s a large part of the issue…a lack of intimidating bats stacked up behind him. Maybe the recent power surge from Lorenzo Cain will translate into more hittable pitches for Billy…we’ll see.
Whatever the case, it’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong with this lineup for a good portion of 2013. It’s not just Butler. Or Gordon. Or any one piece of the puzzle, really. Well…maybe Mike Moustakas. But as fun as this recent winning stretch of baseball has been, I’m not sure it’s sustainable without an increase in home run power.
How can KC compete with teams like Detroit, who can go yard at seemingly any moment? Yeah…the Royals just won a series against the Tigers, but if they are going to hang tough all year, we’re gonna need more power. We’ve seen a recent surge (I guess)…but the Royals are going to have to keep it up over the long haul, or we could (knock on wood) see another long stretch of very hard to watch baseball. But hey…right now, the boys in blue are winning…so I’m going to enjoy the ride.
*On another note, due to the lack of offense, Ned Yost finally let the “stat guys” have more input with his lineup construction of late. And, coincidentally, the first win of this 7-1 run started with that lineup, which is still in place today. Score one for stat nerds/sabermetricians everywhere. For what it’s worth, someone (not naming names here) came up with a pretty similar lineup a while back…