Opinion

Royals mailbag: Why doesn’t Billy Butler start? Can Wade Davis repeat his 2014 season?

The Royals’ Billy Butler.
The Royals’ Billy Butler. The Kansas City Star

Never has first place felt so tenuous. The Royals still control their own destiny, even if their offense appears incapable of resuscitation. As we head into the final weeks of the season, here’s a look at some of the pressing questions facing the club in this week’s mailbag.

It is true that Billy Butler loses playing time and at-bats quicker than any other member of the Royals. That has been true all season. He also is a designated hitter. When he is not hitting, he does not provide any other way to help the club win a game. Mike Moustakas is a good defender, as evidenced on Wednesday night at Comerica Park. The team needs his glove in the field.

And, they also lack an alternative at third base. The same can be said at second. With Christian Colon out, even a reduced version of Omar Infante is much more appealing than either Johnny Giavotella or Jayson Nix.

So, as a reminder: Billy Butler has not hit this season. He has a .646 OPS against righties. He went one-for-13 in his first four games in September. When your job, your only job, is to hit, and you don’t hit, and the team spent $1.8 million on another player who fits the same role (Josh Willingham), you will lose time.

We’ve been down this road before. The coaches preach discipline. The players don’t practice it. You can blame the coaches for inability to communicate (which seems silly, considering the never-ending carousel of hitting coaches coming through the door in recent years). You can blame the front office for acquiring these players (which also seems silly, considering how many rival executives and scouts adored the talent assembled in this farm system a few years back). Or you can blame the players for not listening, not sticking with their approach, not being aware of in-game situations and not doing all the sorts of things that make up a good offense.

Every night, you see their offensive flaws. They don’t advance runners. They don’t get “big hits.” They can’t hit the ball over the fence — and yet they try to, so often.

One example of this phenomenon is Salvador Perez. He is having the worst offensive season of his career. He has a .593 OPS. His .702 OPS is 51 points below his career average; his .308 wOBA is 19 points below his career average. You can blame a bit of bad luck — his BABIP is a career-low .276 — or you can assess his degrading approach.

Perez is not swinging at every pitch he sees. But he is swinging at plenty. Perez is hacking at 45.7 percent of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone, up from 37.5 percent in 2013. Overall, he swings 55.4 percent of the time, up from 49.9 percent in 2013 and 49.8 percent in 2013. He is still 24, his contract is baseball’s best, and his value to the organization is tremendous. But he hasn’t made any progress as a hitter this season, and that is trouble.

I asked manager Ned Yost to assess Perez’s at-bats at one point during the last road trip.

“At times, Salvador, with his will to want to win, at times gets a little long in his approach,” Yost said. “Which jams him, or gets him off the end (of the bat). When he’s really swinging good, he’s short and he’s quick to the ball. That all goes in cycles. You never know from day to day what you’re going to get.”

He added, “He’s an All Star. He’s a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. The problem is that when you’re trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, generally you don’t do it. When you hit the ball out of the ballpark is when you’re trying to stay short and quick and drive the ball to the gaps.”

Yost was protective of Perez, but he also hit on a critical point as we continued to talk.

“He’s swinging a lot,” I said.

“They’re all swinging a lot,” Yost said.

So it goes.

In the moment, I think, so much would depend on how that one-game playoff goes. If the Royals won, fans could enjoy a full-on berth in the ALDS. Kauffman Stadium would host a playoff game. A banner would fly that brought back memories of October, not just memories of a squandered division lead in September.

But even if the Royals lost that game, the banner would still fly. In time, I think, it wouldn’t feel like a consolation prize.

But I could be wrong. It has happened before.

Wade Davis is a prime candidate for regression in 2015. He has given up five earned runs all season. He has given up two doubles. No one has hit a homer off him. I can’t remember any hitter coming particular close to that feat.

So, no, I would not expect a 0.70 ERA next season. But Davis did post 70 1/3 innings of 2.43 ERA with an 11.1 strikeout-per-nine rate as a reliever in 2012. It is reasonable to assume he is a very good reliever.

Only if I could write a story about the experience. That would be a good one.

Yes, but only if you count the mandatory luncheon with all 30 MLB managers and the rest of the media at the Winter Meetings. See you in San Diego, Ned!

Zero. But Mellinger did take me to this place called Green Dot Stables on Monday. Good sliders, good beer list. Cheap food. I would recommend it, if you’re in Detroit and in possession of a car.

Out of boredom, here are a few other favorite restaurants in various American League cities:

Baltimore: Faidley’s (crab cakes), Joe Squared (pizza).

Cleveland: Saigon (Vietnamese).

Minneapolis: Masu (sushi and ramen), 112 Eatery (the ricotta appetizer is the best item I’ve eaten all season).

Seattle: Wild Ginger (Asian fusion).

Tampa: Pho Quyen (Vietnamese).

A preface: I love U2. I have a War Tour T-shirt. I own a physical copy of the “Wide Awake In America” EP. I much prefer “Native Son” to “Vertigo.” I love U2, and U2 is a hard band to love for a music-consuming 27-year-old in 2014. They don’t make it easy on you. The reaction to the record was somewhat predicable: David Frick loved it; Pitchfork loathed it. The critical response was more predictable than the actual music.

I liked it. That is a lukewarm response, but this is a lukewarm record. I don’t ask for much from U2 at this point. I like hearing the shimmering and chiming of The Edge’s guitar. I like hearing Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen lock into a groove and anchor the background (and I like how Clayton and Mullen are always thrown together in the same sentence). I like Bono. I do. His voice sounds great here, exploding into the foreground, preposterous as always. He sings about everything and he sings about nothing. I don’t mind. I love U2. I’m glad they still make new music, even if it mostly reminds me how I should go listen to “A Sort of Homecoming” again.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar

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