Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Billy Butler

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

While some might like Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) to be that magic ‘one stat’ that tells us which player is more valuable than another, it is not.  Brett Gardner is a fine player, but his fWAR (Fangraphs) was basically the same as that of Albert Pujols this season.  That does not mean that WAR is useless, just that it is not the ONLY stat when it comes to evaluating players.

That said, WAR is a very good tool.   For position players, it attempts to consolidate hitting, baserunning and fielding into a tidy little package that gives us a general idea of his overall value.   It is not a fail safe option when calculating team wins.  

In 2011, Kansas City compiled a total team fWAR of 39.1 and won 71 games.   Chicago had 40.3 total fWAR and won 79, while Cleveland totalled up just 30.1 fWAR yet won 80 games.  If you want to know how many fWAR your roster needs to contribute to get 94 wins, I can probably find you 15 different answers…in the last five years.   Like I said at the beginning, WAR (be it fWAR or bWAR or some other WAR…good god, y’all) is not the be all and end all of the statistical world.

Here is what I know, if you want to win the A.L. Central, you have to have more fWAR than the other four teams.    Detroit won 95 games the division in 2011 with an fWAR of 48.5 (8.2 better than anyone else).   Minnesota won in 2010 with 94 wins and a fWAR of 49.7 (6 better than Detroit and 6.7 better than Chicago).  Minnesota only won 87 games in 2009, but it was enough to take the Central and their 41.2 cumulative fWAR was 4 better than second place Detroit.

How many fWAR will it take to win the Central?  I don’t know.   How many will it take to win 92 games?  I don’t know.   What I do know, is that the Royals are almost certain to need more than last year’s 39.1.   If you take my approach of last week that Kansas City should not make any drastic off-season moves (unless someone drops a gem in their lap), then what are the possibilities for the current roster to improve on last year’s mark?

Let’s start with the position players, who provided 25.6 fWAR in 2011.   Alex Gordon (6.9), Melky Cabrera (4.2) and Jeff Francoeur (2.9) accounted for 14 of that total.   All three played everyday, Gordon and Cabrera set career high marks and Francoeur had his highest fWAR since 2007.   Kansas City also got 1.1 fWAR from Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.   If you believe the Royals’ outfield will total 15.1 fWAR again next year, then I have some start-up tech company stock to sell you.

Almost universally, people think it is far more likely that Alex Gordon is more likely to sustain his 2011 performance than Melky Cabrera.   You can count me among them, although I readily admit there is not any real logical reason to have such a clear cut division on two players of basically similar age.   Kansas City can afford to have Melky falter, but they cannot make up for a big Gordon drop-off.   Simply put, if Alex Gordon is a 2.3 fWAR player next year, the Royals are going nowhere.   I don’t think he will drop that far, but I also cannot see Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur and Cain posting 15.1 fWAR in 2012, either.

Let’s set the outfield aside for a moment and look at three other positions:  third, first and DH.   Billy Butler was the Royals’ everyday DH and provided 1.8 fWAR – the lowest total in three years.   Hosmer provided 1.6 fWAR which we will use to quantify the first base position.  (Without getting too crazy, we know that Ka’aihue provided no value at first – fWAR speaking – and Butler played there when one of the outfielder’s took a half day and DH’d – it’s not exact, but close enough for this rough review).   At third, the Royals got 0.7 fWAR from Moustakas and 0.5 from Wilson Betemit for a total of 1.2.  All told, these three positions contributed 4.6 fWAR last season.

Hosmer is, well he HAS TO BE, the real deal.   It seems as though the question is not ‘will Hosmer progress in 2012?’, but instead is ‘how much will he progress?’.     In addition, Moustakas seemed to ‘get it’ as the season wore on and while he is not a lock to improve, I would say the odds are decent that he will.   I would also expect improvement from Butler, who probably won’t spend the first three months of the season being put off about not getting to play first base.

Is it realistic to say the the outfielder, corner infielders and designated hitter can contribute the same 19.7 fWAR as they did in 2011?  Certainly, the contributions might be weighted more heavily to the infielders than the outfielders in 2012, but I can envision Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler making up the difference from the expected regression (hopefully minor) of the three everyday outfielders.

If so, then the Royals would be looking to Alcides Escobar (2.2 fWAR), the catchers (2.9 fWAR total in 2011) and second base (1.1 fWAR total) to hold the line.   Salvador Perez, who provided 1.4 fWAR himself, might be hard pressed to get to 2.9 in his first full season as a regular, but one can hope that Escobar might hit just a little more and that second base might add a little more as well (not exactly sure how, but we can hope).

At any rate, all of the above considered, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Royals’ position players could contribute close to their 2011 output.  If they do that, then the pitchers need to hold up their end of the bargain.   Wow!  I bet you didn’t see that coming did you?

In 2011, the Royals’ pitching staff contributed a pretty awful 13.5 fWAR.   Felipe Paulino and Jeff Francis each contributed 2.6, Luke Hochevar 2.3, Greg Holland 2.0 and Bruce Chen 1.7 (remember, throwing innings is big part of fWAR for starters and Chen threw just 155).   Joakim Soria chipped in 0.9 fWAR, the lowest of his career (his previous marks were 2.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0).    Those pitchers right there get you to 12.1 of the 13.5 fWAR total.

Danny Duffy’s 0.6 is cancelled out by Sean O’Sullivans -0.5.   Kyle Davies, yes KYLE FREAKING DAVIES, provided 0.7 fWAR which was cancelled out by the negative contributions of Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez and Robinson Tejeda.   WAR, in any form, really does not think much of relief pitchers – which points out how good Greg Holland was in 2011 – and as such, Louis Coleman gets a skinny 0.1, Aaron Crow 0.3 and Blake Wood 0.4.   I do believe that WAR undervalues the contributions of a relief pitcher, especially a non-closer, but that is a debate for another time.

Let’s get back to the starting rotation.   We pretty much know that Hochevar, Paulino and Duffy will be in the 2012 rotation.   Can they better their combined 5.5 fWAR?  To begin with, baseball history is full of young pitchers who are not very good as rookies and take a big step forward in year two.   I think Danny Duffy is likely to do the same.   I am not saying his going to become an ace, but it is reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) that he could become a 2.5 fWAR pitcher in 2012.   If Paulino can give the Royals another 2.5 fWAR and Hochevar finally, FINALLY, put it all together and become a 3.5 fWAR guy, the Royals could have 8.5 fWAR out of just three starters – that’s not horrible.  Problem is, that is just one win more than Francis, Paulino and Hochevar gave them last year.

Now what? 

Does bringing back Bruce Chen give you another two wins?  After that, can the number five spot, in combination with the spot starts and injury fill-ins from other starters, get you a ‘barely-head-above-water’ 0.5 fWAR?  You would certainly hope for better, but I am not sure logic will back us up on that one.  Let’s say that Kansas City does gleen 2.5 fWAR total out of the number four through eight starters.    Now, you are at 11 fWAR heading into the bullpen.

Can Joakim Soria bounce back?  If he can, Soria is probably good for 2.0 fWAR.   Then you have Greg Holland coming off a terrific year, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins (0.0 fWAR by the way) setting him up.   Combined, those three accounted for 2.1 fWAR in 2011, you have to get at least that much again in 2012.   Now, the Royals are at 15.1 fWAR out of their staff with the back of bullpen coming into play.   Basically, there was an entire negative win contributed by a bunch of arms last year, which is not uncommon, but it would be nice to avoid.   If the Royals would somehow not have the negative numbers and get another win out of Wood, Herrera, Crow (?) et.al. would that translate into a net gain of 2.0 fWAR?  Maybe….maybe just.

If the above scenario played out, Kansas City would have 17.1 fWAR from their pitchers and another 26 from the position players for a total of 43.1.   Would that translate into a division title?  That is hard to tell, but it almost certainly would get the Royals around or above .500, maybe even into the high 80′s in wins. 

In my opinion, getting an eight at the front of your win total and hoping for some luck and good breaks in 2012 is better than stretching to make a risky deal in a skinny off-season market.   I would rather the Royals shop for that one arm to put them over the top coming off an 84 win 2012 campaign than to do so now, coming off a 71 win season.

xxx

 

 

We’re getting closer to firing up the hot stove, so this seems to be a great time to look at the Royals contract obligations for the upcoming season.

Guaranteed Money
Billy Butler – $8 million
Jeff Francoeur – $6.75 million
Aaron Crow – $1.1 million

The Butler contract hits the second year arbitration escalator. And if that number seems hefty for a player with that kind of service time, remember he signed for less that he submitted to the Royals prior to the arbitration process last year. According to FanGraphs, Butler’s production was worth $8.1 million. And that was probably the least productive year of his last three. Still a good piece of business by GMDM, I say. Even if he clogs the bases. That number does not include what is thought to be a pro-rated signing bonus of $500k.

The Frenchy money is an estimate based on his two-year, $13.5 million extension.

The Crow deal is a leftover from his major league deal signed after the 2009 draft.

Options
Joakim Soria – $6 million ($750k buyout)

No-brainer. The option would have escalated to $6.5 million if he had become a starter. But he didn’t.

First Year Arbitration Eligible
Mitch Maier – $459k
Chris Getz – $443k
Aaron Laffey – $432k

Laffey, as I wrote earlier, is insurance. The deadline to offer contracts for the 2012 season is December 12. If GMDM isn’t able to bring in a couple of bullpen arms by then, Laffey will get tendered a contract. Simple as that. He could be gone before then if the Royals are super aggressive and need the room on the 40-man roster.

Maier would probably get around $650k, I imagine. That’s not too much for a fourth outfielder. Do the Royals want to dip into the prospect pool for the fourth guy? I don’t think so. They know what they have in Maier… A guy who shows up, works hard and doesn’t complain. (And when they’re short an arm, he can pitch!) If they’re really looking to save a few bucks, the could bring up David Lough. Clearly, they don’t think of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at this point. I’d rather they spend a few hundred thousand more and keep Our Mitch around for another season.

And you know my opinion on Getz. There’s no reason for him to be tendered a contract. He’s a utility player without utility. The Royals picked up their 2012 utility guy when they grabbed Yamaico Navarro from the Red Sox. He may play with less GRIT, but he can play more positions.

Second Year Arbitration Eligible
Brayan Pena – $660k
Felipe Paulino – $790k
Luke Hochevar – $1.76 million

Pena is an interesting case. He stands to make around $800k next year, but has confirmed that he can’t play defense and the lone reason for him to be kept around – his OPB ability – has vanished. Manny Pina would be an adequate backup and the Royals have gone on the record saying they don’t think they need to have a veteran catcher on the roster. Besides, with new bench coach Chino Cadahia in the fold, there’s the catching experience right there. I don’t think Pena will be tendered a contract.

Paulino and Hochevar are no-doubters. MLB Trade Rumors has Paulino doubling his salary to around $1.6 million. Given he proved to be a durable and decent starter for the Royals, I can’t argue with that. Hochevar will get a nice raise as well. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

This is where the Royals are going to have to reach for their pocketbooks. Gordon was worth $31 million on the open market based on his 2011 production. Obviously, he’s not going to get that kind of coin, but it just gives you some perspective at how good he was for the Royals last year. Domination.

Gordon lacks a solid track record and that’s kept his salary depressed as he enters his third go around on the arbitration wheel. It will continue to hurt him here, as he stands to get a raise somewhere around $5 million. That’s assuming the Royals don’t do the right thing and extend him.

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

Cast off from the Braves last year, the Melk-Man took a hefty pay cut to play for the Royals. He made $3.1 million in 2010. Look for him to bounce to the $4 million range.

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

Chen projects to be a Type B free agent which means the Royals could be in line for some compensation if they offer him arbitration. Last winter, Chen shopped for a two-year deal, but returned to the Royals when it was obvious he couldn’t find a taker. He’ll be looking for something similar this time around. And again, I think he will have some problem finding what he’s looking for. He’s proven himself, but as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently put it, it’s “Bruce F’n Chen.”

I think the Royals will offer Chen arbitration. At least, they should. If he accepts, the Royals have a serviceable starter for around $3.5 million. If he declines, they get a supplemental. Win-win.

Assuming Getz and Pena are non-tendered, and assuming Laffey sticks and Chen departs as a free agent, the Royals are somewhere in the range of $38 million for their guaranteed and arbitration contracts. Add another $7 million for the remaining 15 players filling out the roster (assuming each of the remaining players have less than three years of service time), and you have a current projected payroll of close to $45 million. Probably a little more because they will certainly have a couple of guys on the 25 man roster that aren’t currently in the picture.

Of course, this is all extremely preliminary. Trades will be made. It’s possible a free agent may be lured to KC. What this represents is a snapshot in time of where the Royals are with their payroll. I’ll revisit this from time to time this winter. It will be interesting to see how the off season payroll evolves.

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

– All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

– I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

– By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

– Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

– I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

– Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

– Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

Billy Butler went three for five last night with two doubles and two runs batted in.   By the end of the evening, his slugging percentage was higher than it has been since May 5th:  continuing a rise from an unsatisfactory .406 on July 15th to its current mark of .465. 

Currently, Butler’s on-base percentage of .370 is second only to Alex Gordon.  His slugging is basically in a tie for second with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, again trailing only Alex Gordon (not sure if you noticed, but Alex Gordon is really, really good this year).   Billy leads the team in walks, is one of four regulars with more than 30 doubles and is in the heated race to be the team’s home run leader.   Admittedly, leading the Royals in home runs is right there with being the tallest midget, but it still counts.

When it comes to the corpulent Mr. Butler, he has a three year run that looks like this:

  • 2009:  .301/.362/.492 with 51 doubles, 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 125
  • 2010: .318/.388/.469 with 45 doubles, 15 home runs and an OPS+ of 134, cutting his strikeouts by 25 from 2009 and increasing his walks by 11 in virtually an identical number of plate appearances
  • 2011: .295/.370/.465 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 132

If Butler continues to hit as he has over the past six weeks, he will end up with somewhere around 42 doubles and 21 home runs by season’s end.   Along the way this year, Billy has grounded into just 12 double plays after apparently bringing us all to the bring of Armegeddon in 2010 by grounding into a league leading 32.

We all know that Butler is a poor fielder, but luckily the Royals play in a league that allows you to bat a guy who doesn’t have to play in the field – not even once!   So yes, Butler’s overall value to the Royals is not as great as that of Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur given that he brings nothing to the statistical arena when it comes to fielding, but every team in the AL plays with a designated hitter.   Ten of those teams basically have full-time designated hitters and among those ten, Billy ranks:

  • 2nd in home runs
  • 2nd in doubles
  • 3rd in RBI (just for Ryan and Frank)
  • 4th in batting average
  • 3rd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging percentage

Analyzing the DH position as a whole (each team’s cumulative totals for whomever has appeared there – for the Royals that is Butler in all but five games), the Royals rank:

  • 3rd in batting average
  • 2nd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging
  • 2nd in OPS+

So, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved by Royals’ fans?

Yes, Billy is ridiculously slow – one of his doubles last night would have been a triple for at least 80% of the league – and it doesn’t seem as though Butler runs as hard as he used to.   Probably, at some point, Billy realized that no matter how hard he runs, he is still slow:  he is never going to beat out an infield single or stretch a double into a triple.   Billy is not ‘Jose Guillen it’ out there, but he may not be busting it down the line as he did in 2009.   I don’t know that there was even an instance this season where I thought if Billy was running harder that he would have been safe.   Butler is slow, no debate there, but I don’t see it as the devastating liability that some do.

Yes, Billy has seemed grumpy this season.   He doesn’t like being a full-time DH and whines about it on occasion when he probably should just keep quiet.   Guys grumble all the time, however.  My guess is there are three people in any of your offices or classes right now bitching about something – that’s life.   Considering that a sector of this fanbase thought David DeJesus ‘smiled too much’, they ought to tolerate a bit of a grump.

Billy Butler is slow and a little grumpy and HAS AN OPS+ OF 132:  maybe we can cut Billy a little slack.  Sure, we would love to have a designated hitter who has an OBP of .370 or better and hits 40 home runs, but then every team in the American League that does not have David Ortiz can say the same thing.   I am not sure that the prototypcial DH type exists these days (Jim Thome is a part time player, Adam Dunn can’t hit anymore and Travis Hafner is hurt) and if that is the case, then Billy Butler is easily one of the top three designated hitters currently in the league.  

If that truly is the case, then again, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved?

As we discussed Jeff Francoeur last week, the comments section spent a fair amount of time on Fangraph’s baserunning metric.  You can count me as among the many who have just enough knowledge on the subject to be dangerous.   The first thing that all or most of us, anyway, think of when you hear ‘baserunning’ is something that measures speed, steals, ability to advance on the bases and on and on.  

In truth, steals and caught stealing were already factored into a player’s WAR before the baserunning (BSR or UBR – they are the same) metric came along.   In addition, some of the other things that would logically be associated with the TERM baserunning have nothing to do with the METRIC Bsr.   That said, here is a link to a far better explanation of Fangraph’s Bsr metric and I hope everyone with a question about it will click here.

A quick and dirty explanation contained in the Mitchel Lichtman article linked above:

Let’s say that there is a runner on second and one out. A ground ball is hit to the SS. Let’s say that on the average, in that same situation, the runner advances safely to third and the batter is thrown out 20% of the time, he stays put 70% of the time, he gets thrown out at 3rd 5% and beats a throw to third 5% of the time (batter safe on a FC). And let’s say that average base/out run expectancy (RE) of all those results, weighted by their frequency of occurrence, is .25 runs (all the numbers are made up). If the runner advances and the batter is thrown out, and the resultant RE is .5 runs, then the runner gets credit for .25 runs (.5 minus .25). If he stays put, and the average RE of a runner on second and 2 outs is .23 runs, then gets “credit” (he gets docked) for -.02 runs (.23 minus .25). So basically a runner gets credit for the resultant run value of what he does minus the average weighted resultant run value of all base runners in that situation.

I guess, more than anything else, reading the paragraph above and the entire article linked to just before will hopefully give all a clearer understanding of what ‘Bsr’ measures and what it does not.   Knowing that steals, caught stealings, grounding into double plays, stretching singles into doubles or lumbering a sure double into a single are not included – basically because they are already accounted for in other metrics.    It is more a measure of efficiency on the bases than speed or even hustle.  It is what it is and attempts to quantify a portion of the game that previously had not been measured and not to define what would logically be inferred under the heading of ‘Baserunning’.

Of course, the primary criticism lately around here has been that Jeff Francoeur’s Bsr is lower than even that of Billy Butler.   Now, we know that Billy Butler is not good at baserunning in the broad sense of the word.    He is the classic ‘time him with a sundial’ runner and, while there is not a whole lot Butler can do to change that in any appreciable manner, Billy gets his deserved share of criticism.   The very nature of Butler’s cement feet, however, cause him to not consider trying to score from first on a double or things of that nature and hence he avoids piling up a lot of the ultimate negatives of baserunning:  outs.

That Billy Butler is rated higher in ‘Bsr’ than Francoeur is not Fangraphs’ saying that Billy Butler is a better overall baserunner than Francoeur, it is simply a measurement of a certain part of what we consider baserunning and one in which Frenchy gets his a lot of negatives (8 outs on the bases not counting caught stealings).  The positives that, at least to some extent, would outweigh those negatives (the hustle double) are measured in a different metric and hence Jeff’s numbers in Bsr take a greater than expected hit.

Again, it is what it is,  but maybe this gives us just a touch more understanding of the metric.

Last night, as I watched Billy Butler launch another home run (his 7th in his last 56 plate appearances) I couldn’t help but wonder if Country Breakfast was developing into a power hitter.

I’ve written about this at length, and I’ve always been skeptical given his proclivity to the ground ball and his opposite field approach. There’s been some movement on the latter issue… Albeit minor. But it may be enough to push Butler north of the 20 home run plateau for the second time in his career.

To start, here is the breakdown of where he put his balls in play in 2010:

Compare that with his chart from 2011:

It’s a subtle change, to be sure. But we can safely say Country Breakfast is pulling more balls to the left side. And for a young hitter – if he’s going to hit with power – that’s something he has to do.

Check out his home run landing plots for this year. Last year, four of his 15 home runs were to the right side of center field. This year, nearly all of his home runs have been in his happy zone to the pull field.

Butler as a power hitter is still a work in progress. And I can’t imagine he’s ever going to hit over 30 home runs in a season. Still, his ever so slight push to the pull field is an encouraging development for a hitter who is still just 25 years old.

Country Breakfast, indeed.

There has been a proliferation of statistics and new metrics over the last several years. FIP, WAR, wOBA, SIERA… These measurements serve to flummox the old school and sate the new school. Like many who strive to survive on a steady diet of Hot Pockets and PepsiMAX (endorsed by Frank White!) I have long had the desire to develop a stat that is both easy to understand and revolutionary. Something to unify the communities. Besides, when you blog, you’re nothing unless you create a statistic. It’s “publish or perish” for the basement subset.

I’ve finally done it. Months of research. Miles of spreadsheets. It’s time to unveil my statistical baby…

Introducing GRIT.

What is GRIT? Well, it’s a kick ass acronym:
Gutty
Resilient
Intense
and
Tenacious

Oh… You want to know what it measures? Ultimately, GRIT is the measurement of a player’s determination and steely resolve. Ever wonder how much a player wants to win? Or how dirty he keeps his uniform? Or just how much he busts his ass whether its in batting practice, during a game or while eating a burrito from Chipotle?

Wonder no more.

GRIT is the most accurate snapshot of the player who wills his team to victory… Drives it to win through sheer determination. It is about the little things that don’t show up in the box score. It’s about the beauty of a well placed grounder to the right side that moves the runner to third. It’s about a bunt that forces the first baseman to charge and make a throw. It’s about hustle, busting your ass and being a great teammate. It’s about getting things done.

The formula behind GRIT is straight forward:


(BB%+SO%) * (SB + 1)
_____________________
(ISO*wOBA)

I will break down the formula, so it’s easy to understand and follow.

(BB%+SO%)

This is a rudimentary way to figure how often a hitter puts the ball in play. You cannot exhibit GRIT if you look at pitches. GRITty players swing the bat, put the ball in play and make the defense work. A walk IS NOT as good as a hit… It’s a lazy plate appearance. A strikeout is rock bottom. A strikeout looking is like death. GRIT is about players who make things happen. In order to make things happen, you must swing the bat.

(ISO*wOBA)

Power is so overrated in today’s game. They used to say chicks dig the longball. But girls are stupid. Home runs are rally killers. There is no way you can GRIT out a win by hitting three-run home runs. A single, stolen base, sac bunt and sac fly is a much more efficient way to score a run, because you are making things happen. Force the issue and keep the defense on their heels. GRIT freaks the defense out. When they worry about the stolen base and the sacrifice bunt, they forget to play with their own GRIT. When one team loses focus and loses GRIT, they will lose the game. Guaranteed.

wOBA is used because, like power, getting on base is overrated. Sure, reaching base is fine and good, but if all you’re doing is setting up the double play for the batter behind you, that is a worthless plate appearance. And if you reach first and aren’t thinking about stealing second or advancing on a kick ass sac bunt, you are a base clogger. Base cloggers are the pond scum of our game and the antithesis of GRIT.

(SB+1)

Just like sunsets, Oklahoma Joe’s french fries and the ability to jump over cars, stolen bases are beautiful. The sac bunt is great, but the steal is the lifeblood of GRIT. We add the plus one to the steal total because there are some base cloggers who won’t budge off the bag and have yet to steal a base this season. (Obviously, the number one reason Kila Ka’aihue is in Omaha is because he did not attempt a single stolen base. Unacceptable. Mike Moustakas is on notice.) Because of these players who are dead weight, we have to add the one so we won’t have a broken formula.

Basically, GRIT is a cumulative measure of offensive awesomeness. The GRITtier a player, the higher the GRIT score. The higher the GRIT score, the higher the player’s value. Perfection.

With the rational explanation out of the way, let’s take a look at the Royals leaders in GRIT for 2011:

Chris Getz – 359.7
Alcides Escobar – 101.3
Jeff Francoeur – 58.5
Melky Cabrera – 51.9
Matt Treanor – 40.2
Mike Aviles – 39.4
Alex Gordon – 39.3
Wilson Betemit – 33.5
Mitch Maier – 17.1
Eric Hosmer – 16.2
Mike Moustakas – 15.1
Billy Butler – 11.9

A couple of observations:

– Chris Grit Getz should have his number retired. He should have a statue in the outfield playground. And he should have part-ownership is a dry cleaning chain. Seriously. If the Royals had more players like Getzie, they wouldn’t be in the cellar of the AL Central. They would be printing playoff tickets. Getz is a ballplayer.

Take Tuesday’s game… Getz was picked off and caught stealing in the seventh. That is a great play, because Getzie was making things happen. He’s a riverboat gambler on the bases. His game may be three card monte, but that’s fine because he’s forcing the issue.

Getz is the Royals MVP.

– Alex Gordon did not make the All-Star team because the coaches and fan voters could see he doesn’t play with enough GRIT.

– Alcides Escobar is surprisingly GRITty.

– Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera shouldn’t be traded. You can’t part with two of your top five in GRIT.

– Mitch Maier has accumulated his GRIT with extremely limited playing time. If he played everyday, he would probably be the second GRITtiest player on the team. I can’t believe Ned Yost hasn’t figured this out. He’s usually on the ball in situations like this.

– Billy Butler is what would happen if OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony had a baby. He is the devil. The worst player on the team. The. Worst. Because he’s a base clogger. Base. Clogger.

I think GRIT has tons of potential. I’ll be petitioning Baseball-Reference to include this stat on player and team pages. And you can bet I’ll be keeping track of the scores of the Royals through the rest of the season.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?