The KC Royals obtained outfielder Billy Burns from the Oakland A’s while he was mired in a horrendous sophmore season. His batted ball profile suggests he’s due for a big rebound in 2017.
The Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s swapped outfielders Billy Burns and Brett Eibner last July in a move that reflected each team’s philosophy. The A’s wanted the athletic 28-year-old Eibner because of his power. While the Royals coveted the speed and defensive range of 27-year-old Billy Burns.
When the two teams pulled the exchange just before the trade deadline last season, Burns was mired in a horrific slump that saw him slash a mere .234/.270/.303. However, the problem seems to have mostly been driven by his low .264 BABIP. Burns probably wasn’t suffering from teams figuring out a shift against him due to the fact that his spray charts indicated he hit the ball all over the field.
That presumption is backed up by his 31.5% pull rate, 39.1% center rate, and 29.4% opposite field rate at Fangraphs.com. Burns also kept batted balls on the ground 53.2% of the time, which is a good rate for a fast player. Also his soft, medium, and hard hit rates match up well with his strong 2015 season in which he posted a .339 BABIP.
Thus, it’s hard to explain why he crashed from a 2.4 fWAR player in 2015 to a -0.6 fWAR player in 2016.
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Steamer projects Burns as a replacement level player since it presumes he won’t get more than 60 at bats in 2017. However, it seems likely he could produce 1.5 to 2.0 fWAR if he get significant at bats (and his BABIP improves). While .300 is typically a league average BABIP, Burns is the kind of player that regularly puts up a better than average rate due to his speed.
In short, the Kansas City Royals snagged a Jarrod Dyson clone in the 5’9″ 170 pound Burns. With four more years before he becomes eligible for free-agency and a minor league option remaining, the Royals don’t have to carry him on the major-league roster in 2017.
He could, however, take over as the club’s fourth outfielder and pinch running specialist if general manger Dayton Moore trades Jarrod Dyson.