It has been three days since Eric Hosmer was placed on the disabled list with a fractured hand. While he had played sporadically over the previous week and a half due to the injury, we now know that Billy Butler is definitely going to be manning first for the next three to six weeks. Given the difference in the two player’s defensive reputation, it seemed akin to replacing a human vacuum cleaner with a something slightly less mobile than a statue.
Yet, during his time actually playing first, Butler has not been terrible. While Butler is not going to make anyone forget about the excellent defense that Hosmer provides at first, he has held his own defensively. Even though Butler is not likely to make any spectacular plays at first, he has made the routine plays and has performed fairly well.
Thus far, based on the amount of defensive runs that Eric Hosmer saved over his 104 games at first, there has not been much of a difference between he and Billy Butler. Yes, Butler has a very small sample size, having appeared in ten games at first, but he has only been worth two less total zone defensive runs than Hosmer thus far.
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Far from being the train wreck at first that he was in the past, Butler has worked to improve his defensive game, even though he was typically relegated to being the Royals designated hitter. He had taken ground balls daily, seeking to improve his footwork around the bag. Those improvements truly showed in 2012, the last time he had an extended time playing first. In the 20 games he played the field, Butler was worth one run saved, and was worth seven runs saved above average, based on 1200 innings.
If the Royals can get similar defensive production from Billy Butler during the next three to six weeks as they did in 2012, then they will find themselves with a relatively competent first baseman. Butler may not dazzle, but as long as he makes the plays he is expected to, then that is all that the Royals may need.
Billy Butler may not be in the same class as Eric Hosmer as a defensive first baseman, but Butler has improved over the years. He should prove to be a solid enough replacement in the interim.