Judging the Royals

Pitching to Billy Butler: how you get him out

The Athletics' Billy Butler (left) and Ben Zobrist celebrate Butler's three- run homer hit off the Padres' Odrisamer Despaigne during their June 17 baseball game Wednesday in Oakland, Calif.
The Athletics' Billy Butler (left) and Ben Zobrist celebrate Butler's three- run homer hit off the Padres' Odrisamer Despaigne during their June 17 baseball game Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The AP

When Billy Butler was here in Kansas City, I was told how opposition pitchers would tend to pitch him: two-seam fastballs down and in or off-speed pitches just plain down. The sinking fastball down and in would have him hitting the outside top half of the baseball and the off-speed stuff down would accomplish the same thing.

Pitchers wanted Butler to hit a ground ball to the pull side of the field, especially in a double-play situation.

In 2014 Butler hit .037 on balls to the infield and .603 on balls to the outfield; so yeah, getting Butler to hit a ground ball seems like a pretty good idea. On the other hand, last season Butler hit .242 on grounders and .153 on fly balls; so why not get him to hit the ball in the air?

Because last season Billy Butler hit .708 on line drives with a slugging percentage of 1.000. Let Billy get the ball in the air and you’re playing with fire; if he gets enough of it he can do damage. Get Billy to hit a grounder and the odds are on your side.

Friday night Royals pitchers threw Billy Butler 17 pitches, and 11 of them were off-speed. Of the six fastballs, two were sinkers and of the other four straight fastballs, only one was thrown for a strike.

When Butler’s in the lineup watch for that down-and-in/off-speed pitch pattern: if the Royals pitchers get Billy to pull a ground ball, they won the battle, even if the ball sneaks through the infield.

If Billy gets a well-hit ball in the air up the middle or to the right side, then Billy wins, even if the ball gets caught.

Today’s pitching matchup: Chris Young vs. Scott Kazmir

That’s the Saturday afternoon pitching matchup and here are some things to look for:

First, Chris Young needs to hit the mitt with his fastball. Young throws his fastball in the mid-eighties and when you throw a fastball in the mid-eighties you better put it where you want it. In his last start Young didn’t do that and gave up seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Chris Young has to command his fastball; watch Salvador Perez’ mitt, where he sets the target and how much Sal’s mitt moves to receive the ball.

Young throws a changeup about twice a game, so that pitch probably won’t be a huge factor, but his slider will. When Young throws his slider, it needs to finish down; if you see Perez call for it, set a target and his mitt moves up, the slider may never reach the mitt—it’s got a very good chance of getting whacked.

The other starter, the A’s Scott Kazmir, is left-handed (and it’s just that kind of inside information that keeps people coming back to this website) so as you might suspect the Royals lefties tend not to hit him well—with the exception of Eric Hosmer. On the other hand, Hosmer has not been hitting well overall lately; only .227 over the last seven days.

If those trends continue, the Royals right-handed hitters will have to be the ones to do damage against Kazmir. Ned Yost does not check with me before he makes out a lineup, but in limited at bats Christian Colon has hit .444 off Kazmir, Omar Infante has hit .429 and Mike Moustakas has hit .143.

When the Royals faced Kazmir back in April, Infante sat, Colon was in the lineup and went 2 for 3 while Moustakas was 0 for 4, so it might seem like an easy decision—play Colon at third base Saturday—but there can be other factors involved. Like Moose hitting .375 over the last 14 days, or the fact that he’s hitting much better against lefties this season.

Which numbers matter?

As the above exercise shows, if you start rummaging around on a website like Baseball Reference—and I do it all the time—you’re quite likely to find a number that will make whatever case you want to make. I can use some numbers to prove Mike Moustakas ought to sit to day and other numbers to prove he ought to play.

Keep that in mind when someone throws out one stat that "proves" something—you can probably find another stat that proves the opposite.

And sometimes it’s not about the numbers at all.

Sitting a guy to gain an advantage in one game might prove to be a disadvantage over the long haul—depending on the guy and the situation. If you think Mike Moustakas will be better served over the long haul by sitting him, sit him. If you don’t want to disturb what Mike has going—and he’s hitting very well—play him.

What Mike Moustakas does over 162 games is more important than what he does in one.