Butler Bops in K.C.

The 2009 Kansas City Royals were an offensive disaster. Collectively, K.C. batters compiled -66.2 Park-Adjusted Batting Runs, worst in the American League. The Royals continued to hack wildly at the dish, with the second-lowest walk rate in the Junior Circuit. Not coincidentally, the club posted the second-highest outside-swing percentage in the A.L.

There’s plenty of disappointment to go around. Curious trade acquisition Mike Jacobs was sub-replacement-level for the second consecutive season. Jose Guillen made $12M while being a full two wins below replacement-level. Would-be savior Alex Gordon was derailed by hip surgery.

Not all was lost, however. While many of his teammates were making outs at a dizzying pace, Billy Butler took steps toward becoming an All-Star-caliber hitter.

We chronicled Butler’s career last offseason, noting his stratospheric .336/.416/.561 minor league line. Kansas City’s 2004 first-round draft pick had a mild age-22 season in 2008 (.275/.324/.400, .318 wOBA), due mostly to a tepid performance against right-handers and a high groundball rate for a 6-2, 240 pound guy with minimal speed.

The future looked extremely bright for Butler, though, given his superb minor league track record. And in 2009, he began to show to strong secondary skills which made him a top prospect.

In 2008, Butler appeared to take a contact-oriented approach at the plate. He put the bat on the ball 93.3% of the time on pitches within the strike zone, well above the 88 percent MLB average. That led to a very low punch out rate (12.9 K%), but the contact might have come at the expense of some power. Butler posted a middle infielder-like .124 ISO, while going yard on just 8.2% of his fly balls hit.

Butler didn’t put much of a charge in those fly balls, with a .440 slugging percentage in 2008 (the A.L. average was .566).

In 2009, by contrast, Butler waited for his pitch more often. His P/PA increased from 3.6 to 3.9, with his first-pitch strike percentage dipping from 58.6% in ’08 (right around the MLB average) to 53.6% in ’09. Butler didn’t make as much contact within the strike zone (88.6 percent), which led to a higher K rate (16.9 percent). However, the 23 year-old did far more damage when he did connect.

Butler’s ISO jumped to .191, with his HR/FB rate climbing to 11.9 percent. He slugged .776 on fly balls (.603 A.L. average). Billy still hit more grounders than one would like to see (47.3 percent), but there are plenty of positives here.

Kansas City’s first baseman continued to annihilate lefties, with a 150 sOPS+ (sOPS+ compares a batter’s performance in a given spit to the league average; 100 is average for a hitter, below 100 is below-average and above 100 is above-average). But he was no slouch against right-handers either, with a 121 sOPS+. In other words, Butler was 50 percent better than the league average vs. southpaws, and 21 percent above the norm against righties.

His more restrained plate approach also led to more free passes. Butler increased his walk rate from 6.9 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent this past year. That’s more in line with what we saw in the minors, when he drew a free pass in 11.5 percent of his PA.

Overall, Butler improved his wOBA to .369, while posting a .301/.362/.492 line. He’s not an elite option at first base (not when the MLB average at the position was .277/.362/.483 in 2009, but he could yet become an offensive force. Butler turns just 24 in April.

Target Butler on draft day. He could provide the punch of some more well-known first basemen, but at a lower price tag.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

6 Responses to “Butler Bops in K.C.”

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  1. Big Oil says:

    Big fan of Billy. Riding him down the stretch was fun, and will be more fun when those doubles turn into HRs.

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  2. The A Team says:

    The question is, does anyone else in the lineup have enough talent to make Butler more than a rate stats guy?

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  3. Nats Fan says:

    I think the Royals have a good chance for a better offense next season. Butler should turn some of his doubles into homeruns being a bit older. Callaspo showed good offense this season (.352 wOBA at secondbase) in only part of a season. If Alex Gordon returns healthy then he should improve the production at third. If Aviles is more like his 2008 version (wOBA .360) than 2009 (.205) then he is good bat for a SS and way better bat than Bentacourt. Dejesus is a 3.3 WAR player and it is not all glove. Guillen and Jacobs are bad, but both had the worst year of their careers in 2009 with career low BABIPS (.280 and .260), so they stand a fair chance to be much less bad next season. Olivo at catcher gets bad press but his .334 wOBA is good enough for 5th in the AL and 8th overall among catchers with 400 at bats or more in 2009. If they find a very good CF, then the offense should improve in every line spot at least some (with solid luck) so overall they could be as good as average for the AL next season.

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    • R M says:

      You are using stats that have nothing to do with Butler driving in runs. Dejesus had a .347 OBP, Olivio had a .292 OBP, Guillen .314, Jacobs a .297 OBP, and Aviles has a career 3.9% walk rate. In a lineup littered with players who struggle to reach base 30% of the time and possess a good bit of power, I think he is going to be seeing a lot of empty bases when he comes up to bat, which means low RBI totals. Looking at that lineup makes me cringe.

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  4. glp says:

    I wouldn’t look for the Royals hitting to necessarily be much better next year, but 2011 could be a very different story. My feeling is that they need to get through one more season with the flotsam, jetsam, dross, and dreck that they now have at the major league level, then after that they can jettison a bunch of those guys and start replacing them with the kids (who we can only hope will perform).

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  5. DWrek says:

    Good guy for sim leagues. Good OBP and probably won’t need to be platooned. Now if he could just find a glove that works…

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