Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

Billy Butler is a very good hitter, whether people acknowledge it or not

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04/21/2014 9:45 AM

05/16/2014 1:17 PM

I guess I should be used to this by now, but Sunday’s column was about the worst (first?) slump of Billy Butler’s life

which means most of the emails and voicemails have been about how Butler stinks and should be, at best, a pinch hitter in the National League.

A significant — or at least significantly loud — segment of Royals fans refuses to acknowledge that Butler has established himself as one of the game’s better hitters. That doesn’t make it any less true, but just for fun some numbers:

Since 2009, Butler’s first full season

, he ranks 13th in adjusted OPS among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. Lower the cutoff to 2,500 plate appearances and he’s 25th. That’s behind sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre, and ahead of guys like Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Mark Teixeira.

Over that same span

, only Robinson Cano has more doubles. Butler is 17th in total extra-base hits, again, behind guys like Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen and Albert Pujols, and ahead of guys like Ben Zobrist, Justin Upton and Jose Bautista.

Now, obviously, Butler needs to hit to be valuable. Most of the players listed here play defense, and some of them quite well. Many of them hit more home runs. With the possible exceptions of Cabrera, Martinez and Pujols, none of them are as slow as Butler. So Butler’s 40 doubles aren’t necessarily as valuable as someone else’s 40 doubles.

But it’s also true that Butler’s lack of defense and 30-HR seasons are a big part of why he’s making $8 million with a team option for next year, instead of $15 million on a long-term contract.

Martinez, for instance, has similar offensive numbers over the last four or five years and is making $12 million this year at the age of 35. Jay Bruce is just a year younger with similar numbers — Butler out OPS+-es him 126 to 118 — but he’s a good right fielder so he’s making $10 million this year, $12 million in 2015 and $12.5 million in 2016 with a team option for 2017.

Anyway, the point is that Butler does one baseball thing very well. He also has distinct and obvious flaws that sometimes overshadow his One Very Good Thing.

But he is the roster’s most established hitter, so even on a team built on speed and defense, the Royals need their slow DH to

get past this slump

and drive in runs with line drives to cash in on this season’s opportunity.

Butler has shown signs in recent days. His single on Sunday was as hard as any ball he’s hit this season. With that in mind,

the Royals are likely moving him back to the cleanup spot tonight.

 

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