We are halfway through the season and Billy Butler is not quite on the same pace he was last year.
Through 80 games in 2012, Billy was batting .287/.360/.495 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI. He was striking out more than he normally does but the power numbers were a welcome trade off.
This season, however, has been different in the power department. While his batting average (.287) and on-base percentage (.387) are either the same or better than this time last year, his power numbers have taken a tumble as he is slugging just .409 with only six home runs.
So what happened? Why is Butler on pace for just 12 home runs and 32 doubles, both of which would be career season lows for a year with at least 500 plate appearances?
Part of the issue with Butler is his inability to hit “his” pitch whenever the opportunity arrises. The graph below spans Butler’s entire career and shows his hot zones.
Almost anything thrown in the strike zone to Billy is going to be crushed, especially pitches that are down and in. A .417 average on pitches down and in is simply insane, and to have two zones batting over .400 is absurdly great. And not surprisingly, Billy hits for great power in those same areas.
If you go inside on Billy, you are going to get burned. As long as Billy lays of the pitch down and away, there is a pretty good chance he’s going to make solid contact.
But through three months this season Billy is not quite crushing “his” pitch the way he has in the past.
Batting .313 best zone isn’t horrible but it is significantly lower than what he normally does. In addition to that, he is also having terrible issues with pitches away, an area where he will typically bat .300.
Why is Billy not quite taking advantage of the pitches he normally crushes and struggling to hit the outside pitch? He’s not hitting fastballs.
Last season, Billy was a .217 hitter when thrown offspeed pitches, with a slugging percentage of .300. This may have been in part due to bad luck – he had a .250 BAbip against offspeed pitches – but his high ground ball rate and low line drive rate suggests that may not be the case. In what may have been an offseason adjustment to better hit offspeed pitches – he’s hitting .333 with a .485 slugging percentage on offspeed pitches against righties – he’s seen his averages against fastballs slip.
This is key because virtually all of Butler’s power comes on hard stuff. According to Brooks Baseball, 91 of Butler’s 109 career home runs have come off pitches that were classified as “hard” – basically fastballs.
This adjustment in his swing and approach may have helped him against righties who were getting him out with offspeed pitches but it has hurt him deeply against left-handed pitching and against fastballs. Butler is batting just .167 against lefties when they throw offspeed pitches, and he has seen his season average against hard stuff drop to below .300.
AGAINST “HARD STUFF”
2012: .357 BAA, .635 SLG, 27 HR
2013: .299 BAA, .461 SLG, 5 HR
And he has seen a tremendous drop off against lefties.
2013 AGAINST LEFTIES
HARD: .306 BAA, .639 SLG, 3 HR (Career: .357, .659, 39 HR)
BREAKING: .154 BAA, .231 SLG, 0 HR (Career: .214, .262, 0 HR)
OFFSPEED: .167 BAA, .167 SLG, 0 HR (Career: .255, .360, 4 HR)
June brought some luck to Billy as he hit .323/.423/.430 on the strength of a .403 BAbip.
The odd part of all of this is Butler doesn’t seem to be having much issues when runner are on base.
2013 Billy Butler Splits
Bases Empty: .256/.357/.369, 4 HR, 6 2B, 4 RBI, 185 PAs
Men On Base: .321/.429/.468, 2 HR, 10 2B, 40 RBI, 133 PAs
Runners in Scoring Position: .361/.461/.525, 2 HR, 4 2B, 35 RBI, 76 PAs
Career Billy Butler Splits
BE: .282/.342/.438, 59 HR, 111 2B, 4 3B, 59 RBI, 2060 PAs
MOB: .319/.389/.493, 50 HR, 122 2B, 465 RBI, 1798 PAs
RISP: .314/.396/.473, 26 HR, 62 2B, 383 RBI, 1049 PAs
Butler is also hitting .429/.556/.500 with RISP with two outs this season.
I could not find any data about how pitchers are approaching Billy when men are on base, but I would assume Butler is seeing more fastballs given what his overall averages are so far this season.
It would seem Butler would be better off going back to the basics: Working his way into fastball counts and looking for pitches in the zone middle-in while laying off anything down and away.
Of course, this is much easier said than done, but if Billy is going to get back to being the Country Breakfast we all know and love he is going to have to figure out how to get back to mashing fastballs. And the more Billy is able to turn on fastball, the better it is going to be for the Royals chances of winning.