Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Billy Butler...All-Star Hitter
by Jeff Herr,posted Jul 3 2012 11:03AM
With the All-Star roster announcements coming out over the weekend we finally saw something that was long overdue: Billy Butler is the Royals’ All-Star. Since becoming an everyday player in 2009, Butler has become one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball. Since 2009 he is second only to Robinson Canoe in doubles (158 for Canoe and 153 for Butler), ranks in the top 20 in RBI’s and top 30 in OBP. That’s playing for most of his career with little hitting around him and a team that historically is one of the worst at getting players on base.
All things considered it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Butler is one of the top 25 hitters in all of baseball. When it comes to designated hitters he vaults into the top 5. Butler doesn’t have the athletic physique of an Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer, but he has out produced both of them. What Butler has done has taken a specific skill set of athleticism and used it to hone the craft of hitting like few others can.
The knock on Butler by the fans for a long time has been his “lack of power.” This, of course, is usually based on a narrow definition of power defined only by the number of home runs a player hits. Most fans usually don’t factor in doubles and overall RBI’s, both categories in which Butler has been a team leader over the last four years.
It was around this time last year Butler’s game began to change. With a career high of 21 HRs, the “lack of power” argument was going strong against him. Especially for an early season slump that had him dip below .300, a place where Butler wasn’t used to being. His body language was questioned and the “trade Butler” hashtag on twitter was started in full force.
It’s not clear if those things got to him or this is just the evolution of a young hitter, but Butler started approaching his hitting differently. Always a very patient hitter, Butler made the pitcher pitch to him. He was always on the lookout for a pitch he could drive into the gap, resulting in his large amounts of doubles. It also resulted in a good amount of walks and a high on-base percentage (at least as far as the Royals are concerned).
Through June of 2011, Butler was walking at a 13.8% clip. Not astronomically high, but high enough to make him the most patient hitter on the Royals. And seemingly on a whim, Butler apparently decided he wanted to hit for more power.
Butler tallied a total of six homeruns through the end of June 2011. In the final three months of the season he more than doubled that, hitting 13. As a result, his walk numbers went down, as did his OBP. With his walk percentage dipping as low as 3.6% for the month of July and his OBP sagging to an uncharacteristic .318 in both July and September.
Butler has continued the same semi-power streak into this year. He has hit less than five homeruns only twice in the last 6 months of play. Consequently in that time his BB% has risen above 10% only once. Looking at these numbers I get an even greater appreciation for Butler’s immense skill level.
Even at his peak, Butler isn’t going to be a 40+ homerun hitter. What’s amazing is the seemingly conscious decision he made to hit for more power, and his execution of that. Most power hitters have tell-tale signs and they develop into their power as they grow older and more experienced.
Those hitters have a swing and an approach that lends itself to hitting more home runs. Butler never has. His approach was one geared toward doubles and getting on base. He changed his approach where lots of other hitters probably wouldn’t have wanted to or been able. With Butler roughly on pace to hit 30+ homeruns for the first time in his career, you get the sense that he could have done this earlier if he wanted to.
By taking more walks and having an overall more patient approach at the plate Butler was great at forcing a pitcher to give him a ball he could hit. He didn’t swing much outside the zone and wasn’t waiting for that “perfect pitch” he could send over the fence. That’s no longer the case.
Butler still remains patient at the plate but swings at balls he might have let go by two years ago. Sometimes that results in more double plays or strikeouts but it also means more homeruns for KC’s newest All-Star.
It’s important to remember that a prime for a hitter is generally at its peak when that player is roughly 27 years old. Butler turned 26 less than three months ago. As much power as he’s developed, it could only get better from here.
With his reputation for power increasing pitchers are giving him less to hit, but when it’s there he’s making the most of it. It’s no stretch that by the end of the season Butler could go from a top 25 hitter in the league to a top 10 hitter.
A week from tomorrow Butler will represent Kansas City in the All-Star game. He will look right at home with some of the greatest offensive players in the game. It also only seems fitting that his first All-Star appearance is at Kauffman where he has committed to being for 3 more years.
Butler has chosen to be a part of this organization like no other player since Mike Sweeney. Butler has embraced this city and this franchise. With his All-Star designation the league has embraced him as one of its best. It’s time this city and this fan base embraced him not only as our All-Star but as truly one of the best hitters in all of baseball.