This is the second post in a series of articles looking at the 2010 Kansas City Royals position by position. In the first post, on catchers, I had an introduction which you can read here.
Below is the list of guys who had more than 20 plate appearances for the Royals while playing first base. Willie Bloomquist, Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier combined for 7 plate appearances. I left them off this chart, but their numbers are included in the combined position table below.
Not a gigantic surprise here. Billy Butler got the bulk of the duties with Kila Ka’aihue coming in second. I really liked how much time they gave Kila at first base after his call up. I think that we already know what Butler has defensively, and it gives him the opportunity to spend some time learning the role of designated hitter. For Kila, it was a chance to see what he could do as an every day player in the Big Leagues. I don’t believe that 34 games is enough of a sample size to really tell what he can do and I expect him to be a regular in 2011. I heard some worries about whether or not Ned Yost would stick with Kila even if he struggled, but those questions were answered. I think his willingness to understand sample size and to give guys an extended look are some of the best attributes of the Royals Manager.
As for Billy Butler, well I think he might be one of the most underrated players in the American League. More than that I believe he is the most underrated player amongst Royals fans. Usually a guy will get respect locally but not as much run nationally as he should (see Shin Soo-Choo), however Butler gets a lot of grief from the local fan base. I don’t know exactly what to ascribe that to. Maybe it’s that he plays at best average defense, or that he hasn’t hit for as much power as some people had projected, he certainly got a lot of heat for hitting into a ton of double plays. But what he does well, he does extremely well. Which brings me to the heat chart.
As a group the Royals first basemen were 5th best in the American League offensively. A couple of things jump out at me from this chart. First, the AL Central has some really good first basemen. Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau and Paul Konerko are certainly no slouches. Maybe that is why Butler gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, his peers in the division are world-class. Using the heat chart, the strikeout rate for Royals first basemen really jumps out. It’s the lowest in the American League. Royals first basemen struck out 90 times all season, the next team on the list, the Detroit Tigers struck out 112, or 24% more often.
Billy Butler is just getting to arbitration and Kila Ka’aihue should get another long look at first base next year. With the results put up in 2010, there doesn’t seem to be any need to improve the position offensively. Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson are the guys knocking on the door from the minors, but I’d figure the earliest either make it to Kansas City barring injury is September 2011. The production at first could drop in 2011 if Butler gets more time at designated hitter and Kila plays more at first. It’s my preferred setup because Kila is the more polished defender.
Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.