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Is Billy Butler’s Power Real?

Billy Buter, AKA Country Breakfast, may finally be worth a slot as a full-time first baseman in standard formats. Butler’s often had to be utilized as a fill in at the position or someone to stick in the utility slot, but his increased power has made him a top-12 player at the most hitter friendly position in the game.

Butler has always been a high contact guy, which is extremely useful in fantasy formats. Rather than a .260 average that you get out of a lot of first baseman, Butler’s had seasons of .292, .275, .301, .318, .291, .294 in his six seasons in the majors. The issue with Butler in fantasy formats has always been a lack of power combined with a usually poor offense around him. Despite playing in 158 games in each of the past three seasons, Butler has yet to top 100 RBI or 80 R, so he has really just been a one category player in comparison to other first baseman who contribute to four.

Now, things may be changing. As Eno covered in January, hitter power peaks are rather early in careers. The highest ISO on average comes between ages 24 and 25, with it declining at a steady pace for the next four years until age 30. Butler is in his age 26 season, so it is not completely out of the ordinary for his power to peak now. The chart Eno has in his article is just an average, so producing a career high ISO a year or two after the expected peak is certainly common.

Butler’s current ISO is .219, while his career average is .165 and his highest ever mark was .191, which came in 2009 when he hit 21 home runs. At Butler’s current pace, he would hit 34 homers with 109 RBI and 69 R. Even if he slows down a bit, Butler will be more of a three category guy than the two-ish he was before, when the only real categories he helped out in were RBI and average.

What’s especially interesting about Butler’s season, and what also makes him a potential sell high candidate, is that his walk-to-strikeout rate is the worst of his career at 0.41. His career average is 0.63, so this is a noted step down from his annual rate. Another sign to worry about is his HR/FB rate of 21.2%. His previous career high is 11.9%, so even though I believe his power is improved, a rate this high is at least somewhat unsustainable. If he drops back to his career average of 10.5% for the remainder of the year, he should still net around 25 home runs, which is still pretty useful when combined with his high average.

There are a few ways to handle Butler, but I would currently try to ride out his performance and see if his power numbers remain solid as well as what his BB/K rate looks like in a few weeks. Selling high is certainly an option if you see a team with a first base need and you have a replacement, but buying high is also another option, as Butler is in the prime of his career and could produce stellar results throughout the season. My personal recommendation is to hold, but certain situations could lead to him being a quality sell high candidate.