Nothing better than a piping hot Country Breakfast, loaded with OPS and smothered and covered in rich, delicious stat lines, to help you win your fantasy championship…
After a breakout season in 2012, added position eligibility and arguably one of the best nicknames in baseball right now, Billy Butler is headed towards being one of the sexier picks in fantasy drafts next season. Batting .313 with 29 home runs and 107 RBI while amassing 20 games played at the position this past season, Butler is no longer just a DH and will garner some serious attention in the future. Though accidentally omitted in Zach Sanders’ End of Season First Base Rankings, Butler should be slotted sixth with a value of $19 and while that may not be enough to land him “elite status,” it certainly made him one of the better value picks at the position this past year.
For some, Butler may not have entered the season as a first baseman as he played just 11 games at the position in 2011. If you were unable to use him at the first base or corner infield slot, he still made for an excellent pick for the utility/DH position. Sure, it limits the roster flexibility, but with the season he had, it wasn’t like you were looking to move him out of your lineup for a better hitter.
The breakout, though, should not have been unexpected. As a matter of fact, given his peripherals and the fact that he was turning just 26 at the start of the season, he probably should have been on more people’s radar and induced more of a bidding war in auction leagues. Everyone’s process when evaluating players is different, but I’ll just share what I saw before the start of the season and how I got to drafting him in several leagues this year.
For me, Butler’s breakout seemed predictable just based on his walk/strikeout rates, his ISO and knowledge of a person’s physical developments as they age.
Year One: Below-average walk rate, slightly better-than-average strikeout rate, average ISO — relatively standard for most first-year players
Year Two: Below-average walk rate, improved strikeout rate, lower-than-average ISO — improved overall plate discipline at the expense of some power
Year Three: Average walk rate, slightly higher, but still better-than-average strikeout rate, much improved ISO — putting everything together and allowing power to come through.
All the while, his high contact rates helped maintain a strong BABIP which subsequently led to a consistently strong batting average.
By his fourth season, Butler was using everything he had learned in his first three years and began the hitting trajectory on which his career now sits. He’s maintained strong numbers for both walks and strikeouts and has now allowed his power to develop more naturally. His batted ball data shows a penchant towards ground balls (47.2%), but as his body has matured and filled out, his raw power and strength have allowed him to post double-digit HR/FB totals in three of his last four seasons. A consistently strong career line drive rate of 19.3% has also helped in maintaining both a strong average and solid on-base percentages.
After his fifth season it was obvious that he was getting stronger and while banging more homers may have an adverse effect on both his walk and strikeout rates, neither fell to a number where someone might be concerned that his average would plummet the more he swung for the fences. Hence, his 2012 season — a slightly lower walk rate, a slightly higher strikeout rate and a beautiful .197 ISO mark. He reached career highs in hits, home runs, and RBI and there is nothing in his batted ball data that indicates the season was a fluke or that he is incapable of improving. In fact, with a lower-than-usual fly ball rate this past season, it is very likely that his LD% comes down next year, he hits more fly balls and because he is physically peaking right now (remember, 27 years old next year), he should be able to muscle out a few more dingers. He may only hit .290, but the trade-off is worth it.
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