Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
So far in 2014, Billy Butler hasn’t really hit like Billy Butler. His struggles with elevating the ball have been well-documented, and he’s currently posting the lowest wRC+ of any Royals’ hitter with at least 21 plate appearances. He’s still walking at a decent clip (9.2% BB rate) but he has just two extra-base hits on the season, giving him a miniscule .026 isolated slugging percentage. To put it nicely, things are not going well.
However, with the team now in Baltimore, Butler may have a great chance to put up some big numbers over the weekend. Camden Yards is a hitter-friendly park, and for Butler, it’s been even hitter-friendlier.
To date, Butler’s played in 23 games in Camden Yards, putting up the following line:
101 PA, .323/.376/.591, 12 XBH, 6 HR
I would say that’s fairly acceptable.
Obviously he’ll need to put a few balls in the air in order to take advantage of that environment, but it does seem like Butler’s done a better job of that recently. His batted ball rates have started to normalize (you didn’t actually think he’d hit ground balls 70% of the time all season, did you?) and he has hit a few balls with some authority. In addition to all of that, the Orioles pitching staff may be quite accommodating for the Royals’ designated hitter.
Overall, the Orioles’ staff has been pretty terrible in just about every facet of pitching this year. Their ERA- is 108 (24th). Their FIP- is 116 (29th). And even after adjusting for a park-inflated HR rate, their xFIP- is 110 (28th). They don’t strike out many batters – just 18% of them – which ranks 27th in that category. This seems like a group of pitchers the Royals and Butler can take advantage of.
Beyond the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of the Orioles pitchers, their batted ball tendencies could help Butler a bit more. They give up a lot of hard contact, judging by their 21.8% line drive rate, which is the 6th highest rate in baseball. They also have a fly ball rate of 36.9%, which also is the 6th highest rate in baseball. Royals’ pitchers are just above them in that category, but complicating matters for the Orioles is their HR/FB rate, which currently sits at 12.9%, the 7th highest figure in MLB.
The final piece of their batted ball profile is the one possibly most important to Butler, and that is their ground ball rate. Orioles’ pitchers have allowed ground balls on 41.3% of batted balls, which is the lowest ground ball rate among all 30 teams. The three starters the Royals should face this weekend – Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez – all have no higher than a 40% ground ball rate. This should bode very well for Butler and the rest of the lineup, since the Royals have so many ground ball hitters on their roster.
The next three games could be very important for Butler. While he’s looked better in recent games, this team needs him to get back to his old form, or at least something resembling his old form. It’s still very early in the season, of course, and I do think Butler will come around at some point. But, we all know the Royals can’t afford to fall too far away from the rest of the division, and Butler can do quite a bit to help boost this offense to the level at which most people expected it to be. The lineup could really use one of Butler’s month-long hot streaks, and that streak could begin tonight in Baltimore.