Billy Butler, Doubles, History and the Future

Be it more home runs or more doubles, the Royals need more than just OBP out of Billy Butler. - Mike Stobe

More Billy because I like talking about guys who can actually hit the ball.

Through the completion of the 2012 season, which was Billy Butler's 'Age 26' season, Butler had hit 217 doubles. As you might imagine, that number put the Royals' designated hitter into some elite company.

Since 1901, only 44 other players have managed to hit 200 or more doubles by age 26. Joe Medwick leads the list with 305 followed by Albert Pujols with 260. The list is full of fun names: Ott, Cobb, Frank Robinson, Griffey Jr., Yaz, Kaline, Aaron, Foxx, Speaker, Hornsby and Gehrig to name a few. Kind of an overwhelming collection of baseball talent, which is certainly not surprising.

If we narrow the field to those who reached 200 doubles by age 26 since 1969, the list shrinks to 19 players. Obviously, Pujols tops that list with Alex Rodriguez third, Robin Yount fourth and Miguel Cabrera fifth. Without cheating, anyone venture a guess as to who happens be second on the list? Answer later on in this piece.

Butler's 217 doubles puts him 11th on our 1969 to the present rankings: ten behind Griffey, five behind David Wright, one ahead of Andruw Jones and six ahead of George Brett. Other than our mystery second place player, Edgar Renteria is the only name on the list of 19 that really surprised me and, in retrospect, Edgar could really play back in his prime.

As there is much discussion about Butler and his sub-.400 slugging percentage right now (some yahoo on this site wrote about it just yesterday for godssake), it is interesting to note that of these 19 elite doubles hitters, Butler ranks 12th among them in number of home runs hit as of their Age 26 campaigns. Below him are Yount, Renteria, Ted Simmons, Brett, Nick Markakis and Roberto Alomar.

Okay, here's the list of 19:

  1. Pujols
  2. Cesar Cedeno
  3. Alex Rodriguez
  4. Robin Yount
  5. Miguel Cabrera
  6. Ivan Rodriguez
  7. Ruben Sierra
  8. Edgar Renteria
  9. Ken Griffey Jr.
  10. David Wright
  11. Billy Butler
  12. Andruw Jones
  13. Ryan Zimmerman
  14. Adrian Beltre
  15. Ted Simmons
  16. Cal Ripken
  17. George Brett
  18. Nick Markakis
  19. Roberto Alomar
Obviously, a number of these guys are still active, but as of the end of 2012, eleven of these players had established their season high home run total either before or during their age 26 season. I thought we might have a trend for a moment as six of the top eight are among those who set their season high mark in homers prior to turning 27 (Cabrera and Ivan Rodriguez are the two who did not), but 11 out of 19 is certainly not a definitive trend.

The aforementioned Pudge, along with Griffey and Simmons, all hit more home runs in a season in their age 27, 28 AND 29 years than in any other. Andruw Jones, who already had 221 round-trippers at 26, would have his two biggest years when he was 28 and 29. Brett, Ripken and Alomar hit their career high in home runs at or after turning 30, with Brett being the oldest at 32. It is worth noting, that Cal Ripken hit 34 dingers in at age 30, but that was the only season that surpassed any of the home run totals Ripken hit during his age 21 through age 26 seasons.

None of the players on this list suddenly turned into home run mashers after turning 27. While Griffey, Jones and now Cabrera all had their biggest home run years after that arbitrary age, they were certainly not lacking in fence clearing ability prior to that. One could conceivably insert a quip about Miguel Cabrera's ability to clear, say, a toy farmyard fence here, but that would be in poor taste.

I do not know if many people were expecting Butler to parlay his 29 home run 2012 into 40 home runs, but I personally thought that perhaps Butler would consistently hit 25 to 30 home runs for pretty long string of season. My assumption was based almost solely on the fact that I think Billy Butler is a really good, really astute hitter and that he quite possibly did trade doubles for home runs in 2012 and would continue to do so. In retrospect, it may well be that Butler's increased FB/HR rate of 2012 was just a happy coincidence and not the result of an intentional adjustment by Billy.

Yes, Billy hit a home run last night and yes, Butler has a fantastic OBP in 2013. Undeniably, however, Butler's slugging - be it doubles or home runs - is not what it has been in the past. As I wrote on Monday, the Royals' DH will almost certainly rebound back to the level of production we have become accustomed to, it's just a question of when.

A rudimentary look at our list of 19 players above, would make one suspect that Butler is more likely to rebound to the 45 double-18 home run guy he was prior to 2012 as opposed to the 32 double-29 homer player he was last season. Either makes him one of the best hitters in the game and perfectly suited to hit in the middle of the Royals, or any other team's, batting order.
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