Little about Billy Butler looks normal in 2014. His power is down. His batting eye looks hazy. His offensive statistics have all fallen short of expectations.
Except for one.
Heading into Wednesday’s Royals game against the White Sox, he was tied for the American League lead in grounding into double plays.
He pushed his way into a tie with Texas teammates Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios by hitting into a rally-ender on Tuesday night. With one out and the bases loaded, Butler one-hopped a curveball directly toward White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. It was his 16th of the season.
“You can do everything right,” Butler said. “And this game doesn’t care sometimes.”
Butler has always hit plenty of balls on the ground. His groundball percentage in 2014 is 52.2, slightly up from his career average of 48.5, but a tick below last season’s career high of 53.1. Butler framed this fact as unavoidable, and he does not intend to alter his style.
“I have an approach,” he said. “My approach hasn’t changed. How many times have I succeeded in that situation over the years? I hit the ball right on the nose. It was just in a bad spot.”
Asked if he tried to put the ball in the air in those situations, he replied, “Of course I’m trying to hit the ball in the air. That’s evident. Everybody’s trying to hit the ball in the air, at that point. It’s not like I chopped the ball. It’s one of those things. I one-hopped [into] a double play.
“Of course I’m trying to get underneath the ball. I think that’s common sense.”
Butler viewed his yearly rankings in the top of the GIDP category as almost a badge of honor.
“You look around the league,” Butler said. “The guys who lead the league in double plays are guys who hit the ball low and hard.”
This is true. The leaderboard in recent years is stocked with talented hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Evan Longoria. But these men have also produced. Butler has not.
That’s why manager Ned Yost sat him on Wednesday afternoon. An injury forced Eric Hosmer out of the game in the eighth. A pitch hit for Butler in his first at-bat. For his second, White Sox manager Robin Ventura elected to intentionally walk Omar Infante to load the bases for Butler.
Butler took a 1-0 fastball down the middle from reliever Zach Putnam. He had a chance to break open a game, and ease some pressure off closer Greg Holland. Instead, he hit a 1-1 fastball at the knees toward second baseman Gordon Beckham, who made a nifty play.
And with that, Butler once again led the American League, this time with 17 double plays.
THE MATCHUPS AGAINST THE INDIANS
Thursday, 7:10 p.m.: LHP Danny Duffy (5-10, 2.66 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (10-6, 2.95 ERA).
Friday, 7:10 p.m.: RHP Yordano Ventura (7-8, 3.59 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (5-7, 4.43 ERA).
Saturday, 6:10 p.m.: RHP Jeremy Guthrie (5-9, 4.56 ERA) vs. TBA.
Sunday, 1:10 p.m.: LHP Bruce Chen (2-2, 5.80 ERA) vs. TBA.
FROM THE STAR
The right knee of Mike Moustakas connected with the glove of White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, and the Royals managed to sneak out of Chicago with two wins out of three.
Eric Hosmer aggravated his injured right hand on Wednesday. His return date is uncertain.
THE ROYALS’ PLAYOFF PERCENTAGE (ACCORDING TO BASEBALL PROSPECTUS)
HERE IS SOME ROCK MUSIC
“Foolish Kids” by Matt Pryor.