With the demise, or semi-demise, of Alex Gordon as the team's top young position player, Billy Butler has emerged as the most important hitter on the 2010 Royals. Billy Butler turned 24 this season, so he's still a very young player. Nevertheless, Butler has been a Major League player since 2007, and 2010 is his last season as a minimum salary player. The Royals may only have three more seasons of Butler on the roster, and maybe only a season or possibly two with him as a legitimately cheap player. If the Royals are going to extract value from Butler, it needs to happen soon. Finally, with Butler we're starting to get to the point where the future isn't going to be so far off. He's young, but he's not 21 anymore. Heading into this season there was a general sense that it was time to see what Butler could do.
So how has Butler done?
On Opening Day of 2010, Butler had already played in 375 games in the Major Leagues and had amassed 1510 career plate appearances. Not bad for a player that was still younger than many minor leaguers. From 2007 to 2009, Butler posted a .291/.346/.451 line. After a rough 2008, Butler rebounded in 2009 to hit .301/.362/.492 in 159 games. Amongst Royals reporters, bloggers, and fans, there was quite a lot of chatter about Billy's good numbers, doubles, etc. at such a young age.
It's difficult to say if Butler's been better, the same, or a little worse in 2010. Let's start with the triple slash lines:
So, the batting average is up a tick, and so is his OBP. Butler's walk rate has incrementally improved the last three seasons, which has also helped him get on base. I like having a .382 OBP guy in the Royal lineup. At the same time, his power numbers haven't quite been there. His ISO has dropped down to .141, close to what he posted during his bad dream season in 2008. The homer numbers have taken the biggest hit, as Butler has just 11 HRs thus far. The weird thing is that Butler's GB/FB/LD rates are all very similar from '09 to '10. He's just hitting less HRs on the same number of FBs. Is this bad luck? Is he not driving the ball as far? I don't know.
However, in terms of overall offensive value, Butler's 2009 and 2010 seasons have been nearly identical. His wOBA in 2009 was .369, in 2010 it is .363. OBP matters.
When you factor in his improved defense, Butler's actually been better in 2010 overall.
Perhaps the power issue is overblown. Butler could not even get that hot, hit four or five homers the rest of the way, and end up with 15 or so HRs. Is that really a huge decline from 21? No. Do you want to see a young 1Bs HR totals go down? No. Do you like a lazy writer using questions to argue a point? Maybe.
To me, Butler's always been a partial enigma. He's a big fat guy who looks like he should hit HRs, but that's never quite happened at the Major League level. But I say that's a partial enigma because, honestly, it's a stupid way of thinking. Stomach fat doesn't equal power. Butler is fairly patient, can hit for a high average, and hits doubles. That's good.
(One minor thing: maybe the Royals could give Billy a day off every now and then? He played 159 games last year and is close to matching that total in 2010.)
I'm curious to hear what you guys think Butler's next five years will look like. Do you still think he becomes an offensive monster at his peak (maybe .310/.400/.556) or something a little less monstrous? I can't say Butler took a giant step forward in 2010, but it is safe to say that he's fully established himself as a valuable contributor at the Major League level.