Over the last three seasons, Billy Butler has been the most dependable and productive hitter for the Kansas City Royals. Despite his prowess as a hitter (and owing to a pretty wicked positional adjustment as a DH), this hasn't been particularly reflected in the WAR department. Last season, Butler rated as a just-below-average designated hitter with 1.8 fWAR despite a .291/.361/.461 line. He has averaged just 2.3 WAR over the last three seasons despite amassing 140 doubles and 55 HRs with a .303/.370/.404 triple slash. Historically, he has also been a bad baserunner, and his defense isn't doing him any compliments either: together they have cost him roughly 2.5 WAR over the last three years.
All of these things have coalesced to produce what we have seen before us: a very good hitter who draws a large number of walks and hits for above-average power, but hasn't really formed into the type of hitter you typically see penciled in as the designated hitter. This season, however, Billy Butler appears to have changed his approach at the plate, and it is paying off so far.
For the year, Butler is hitting .296/.355/.507, which so ridiculously resembles his career numbers (.297/.359/.461) it feels like he is mocking us. There have been a couple of noticeable differences this year, which is reflected in his slugging %.
On the year, he has already stroked 11 HRs and puts him on pace for 32, which would beat his previous career-high by double-digits (11, to be exact). He has also hit 12 doubles, putting him on the path for about 35 on the season: that, curiously enough, would be 11 less than the total he has averaged over the last three seasons.
Replacing some of his doubles with home runs has given Butler a .507 SLG%, which would be a career-high if it holds up, and this change in philosophy appears to be intentional.
For his career, Butler has a BB% of 8.7. The previous three seasons he has been higher than that, drawing walks at a 9.5% clip. On the other side, his career K% is 13.8, which is right in-line with where it was from 2009-2011. This season, however, Butler is walking slightly less (6.4%) and striking out more (17.1%). His ISO is also the highest of his career at .211, which would bump him from "Above-Average to Great" territory.
Butler's spray chart from this year:
Based on the information gathered on the season so far, it would seem that Butler has made the concerted effort to pull the ball more, in combination with being more aggressive in the strike zone. So far it has paid off for him, as he is on pace to have career highs in HRs, .SLG%, wRC+, and WAR without sacrificing much in the on-base department.
(Statistical information was taken from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Charts were collected at TexasLeaguers.com)