Billy Butler weighs more than he should.

Billy Butler does not run very fast.  In fact, he does not run well at all.

In the past three seasons, Butler has hit into 68 double plays.

Billy Butler is a poor fielding first baseman and, at the age of just twenty-five was relegated to full time designated hitter.

For a designated hitter, Billy Butler does not hit with enough power.  Thirty-three players in the American League hit more home runs than Butler did in 2011.

But then…

Billy Butler has played in 476 games the last three years.  Over that time, Billy has piled up 546 hits and smoked 140 doubles on his way to a line of .303/.370/.474.  He has walked 193 times and, for those traditionalists out there, driven in 90 or more runs in two of the last three seasons.

For all his faults, the one undeniable truth is that Billy Butler can hit a baseball.  Coincidentally, that happens to be what designated hitters get paid to do.  In 2011, the Royals designated hitters (which is almost completely Butler) ranked third in the A.L. in slugging, second in on-base percentage, third in average and first in doubles.   If Billy Butler did everything exactly as he has for the past three years, but average 26 home runs per season instead of 18, there would be a sizable reduction in the amount of chatter regarding Billy Butler and what he can’t do or doesn’t do well enough.

Of course, whether Billy will develop more home run power has been a constant discussion almost from the moment he made his major league debut.   We have had our fair share of it on this site and some of it quite recently, so I am not going to rehash all of it.  One can certainly make a case that Butler might yet add additional power – his ground ball to fly ball ratio was the lowest of his career last season – but one can also make a case that this is who Billy Butler is going to be.  The  ZiPS projection for 2012 puts Billy at a very Butler-esque .295/.362/.462 with 41 doubles, 19 home runs and 62 walks: basically the same solid hitter he has been since 2009. 

That ‘same solid hitter’ lists the following ‘Similar Batters through Age 25′ on his Baseball Reference page in this order:  John Olerud, Kent Hrbek, Keith Hernandez, Nick Markakis and, this one ought to catch your eye, Carl Yastrzemski.  Frankly, that is a pretty solid list and none of us are going to complain if Butler finishes out his career in the same fashion as Olerud (he is one of the more underrated players in recent history – check the stats), Hrbek, Hernandez and Yaz.

Of course, the rub is that those guys, at age twenty-five, also brought considerable defensive skills (or at least decent skills in the case of Hrbek)  to the table that Butler does not.   And so, here we are again, back to the things that Billy Butler does not do well.

The question really becomes does Billy Butler have to do more than he already is.   Can the Kansas City Royals contend with Billy Butler ‘just’ batting .300/.365/.465 and giving them an fWAR of between 1.8 and 2.9?   In a lineup that features Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and hopefully a power hitting Mike Moustakas, is that enough production from the DH spot?

I have to think it is.   While Butler is not the prototypical DH (i.e. Jim Thome or David Ortiz) he might well be good enough.  While contending teams have better ‘best hitters’ than Billy Butler, they all certainly have a place for someone who can hit as Billy does somewhere in their lineup.

I don’t know, maybe you try to trade Butler for good starting pitcher (if that really is an option), but for now, I like Billy Butler somewhere in the middle of this Royals’ lineup.  I like the idea of having a player who is almost a sure thing to hit 40+ doubles and 18 home runs with a .360+ OBP. 

As we have said often this off-season, the Royals have made progress.   That Billy Butler just has to be who he is while other players take the lead is a sure sign of just that.

xxx