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Billy Butler's power

New data throws new light on an old problem.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Here comes more stuff from Tony Blengino. You guys have to be sick of me using data/techniques from him by now, right? I just get so excited whenever he reveals a technique or data that we don't have access to in the public sphere. The most recent one, in this article here, talks about park factors in the left-center field area of each stadium. Naturally, Fenway inflates offense to ridiculous levels there. Routine fly outs in 29 stadiums are doubles at Fenway because of that giant wall*.

*My wife, who has become more and more astute as I talk baseball with her, has seriously questioned why park dimensions are so different throughout baseball and noted that parks play a huge role in offense. She came to this conclusion on her own without me telling her too much. VICTORY.

Anyway, the most interesting part of the article for me was the big table of park factors for left-center field that Blengino created using what I assume is HITf/x data. The Royals' park factor in LCF was 72.5, which means that Kauffman stadium deflates production to LCF by 27.5%. This can help us understand Billy Butler.

For this analysis, I turned to Baseball Heat Maps. I gathered two types of data. First, Butler's line drives and fly balls hit to each of 5 sections of the outfield (LF, LCF, CF, RCF, RF). Second, the average distance in feet of the line drives and fly balls hit to each section. The distance number is where the fielder fielded the ball, not where it landed. Both types of data represent career data. Behold, a table.

Count Avg Dist
LF 81 283
LCF 326 273
CF 538 285
RCF 477 256
RF 179 250
Pull Ratio 0.62
Total Avg Dist 270

The pull ratio there is calculated by this formula: (LF+LCF)/(RF+RCF).

So, when Butler puts the ball in the air, it's more often to right field than to left field. However, as you can see by the average distance, Butler has more power when he pulls the ball. Interestingly, that LCF area* has a lower average distance than LF and CF.

*I'm hoping Blengino's definition of LCF and my definition of LCF, based on Baseball Heat Maps data, are the same. They should be close enough.

Between LF and LCF, Butler has hit 49 line drives and fly balls between 370 and 460 feet in his career. Between RF and RCF, Butler has hit 1 line drive or fly ball between 370 and 460 feet in his career. Wow.

So, Kauffman stadium deflates production to left center field. This has potentially led the Royals to emphasize spraying the ball to all fields, which we've all heard the Royals say, right? The Royals love guys who can take the ball the other way. Butler can and does take the ball the other way in the air, as shown by his pull ratio, but he appears to hit the ball much more weakly there. Even when he does pull the ball and hit it harder, Kauffman's dimensions work against him. Combined with the interesting data that he hits the ball weaker to LCF than LF or CF, there's an explanation for Butler's lack of power.

It's not that Butler actually doesn't have any power; he does. He doesn't hit too many cheap home runs. All 9 of his home runs hit in 2014 would have been out at Kauffman, and 7 of the 9 home runs would have been out at all 30 of the parks. It's just that it appears the stadium and a conscious decision to take the ball the other way more often are working against him.

Should Butler pull the ball more? I don't know. Pulling the ball requires getting out in front of the pitch, which requires swinging earlier. Usually, that means cheating fastball a bit, which could lead to some poor swings on breakers and changeups. I'd really like to have more granular HITf/x data to try to answer this question.

He also hits too many grounders.