For a primer on the 20-80 scouting scale, check out Kevin Goldstein’s article at Baseball Prospectus. When listening to scouts, baseball front office personnel, writers, or random baseball guys, the 20-80 scouting scale eventually comes up. It’s always a good idea to have knowledge of how players are performing according to this scale so that baseball conversations have a common reference point.
One easy tip: when a player is a 60 hitter, it means he’s a .300 hitter. A .300 hitter is really good, right? Extrapolate that to other areas and any time you see a 60 grade know that the player is pretty darn good at that thing.
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Butler has been the rock of the team and leader in the clubhouse. Don’t let anyone tell you different; when Butler talks, the other players listen. He’s often been the only offensive highlight on the team. The Royals can’t succeed without his bat and after his slumping 2013, he will have to pick up the pace in 2014 to contribute to the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs.
Here are Billy Butler’s scouting grades:
What a bat. What an eye.
For the past five years, Billy has been a .302/.372/.469 hitter with a 128 OPS+. He hits balls hard to all fields. His line drive rate has been above average for the past three years, posting a career high 23% in 2013 (according to baseball-reference.com). Unfortunately, the arc of the balls he hit in play was lower last year. His ground-out-to-fly-out ratio was nearly 2:1. A guy as slow as Butler can’t afford to hit that many groundballs.
His swing literally has no weakness. He controls the strike zone and maintains an above average walk rate year after year. He rarely swings at anything off the plate and argues, often correctly, with umpires when they miss calls. Butler is such a dangerous hitter that a study in 2012 revealed that pitchers actually throw harder to Butler, reach back and exert extra effort, than 99.4% of major league batters.
Billy Butler has averaged 20 home runs and 91 RBIs per year since 2009. His career isolated power (SLG – AVG) is .161 despite a disappointing .124 in 2013. In 2012, ten of his 29 home runs were over 420 feet. Even when he doesn’t bash the ball over the wall, his gap power is also dangerous. He has hit 40 or more doubles three times. While he’s not an elite power bat, he has plenty of juice in that swing.
Not that this really matters, but Billy isn’t that bad of a fielder. Not really. John Dewan’s plus/minus system never had him more than five runs below average. If a team has an otherwise solid defense, Butler won’t cost the team much run prevention. He’s not graceful on the diamond, but he’s not inept either.
When he plays regular first base, his hand-eye coordination gets better as he gets more reps in the field. He’s slow, though. No getting around that. His range is limited to where he can fall over and extend his arm. He will always be a bad defender, but shouldn’t serve as much of a liability at a position where most players are already bad defenders.
Butler’s arm isn’t too shabby. He can make decent and accurate throws when needed, but his arm is even more irrelevant than his fielding. When he does play the field, he’s at first base, where throwing is something of a rarity. Although, it does have its uses in certain situations. With a good arm, a cleanly fielded line drive can turn into a double play or other types of outs on the basepaths. In the end, it’s never a bad thing to have too much arm for the position.
Billy Butler is one of the two slowest players in Major League Baseball (probably the slowest). If you ever wondered what the lowest scouting grade for a major league player looked like, it’s Butler’s speed. It’s a legit 20. He grounds into tons of double-plays. Combine that with his inability to move up multiple bases at once and an inability to steal bases and he’s occasionally considered to be of only average overall value. His speed hurts.
In fact, because of double-plays, baserunning, defense and positional scarcity, Baseball-Reference.com has him as a below average baseball player for his career. Now, that’s not quite fair because it doesn’t take into account the roster he’s on nor the spot in the order in which he bats, which changes things dramatically.
Overall, Butler is an amazing talent with the bat and is still rolling through his peak years. If he can get back to getting slightly more loft on the ball, a batting title might be in his future. His speed forbids him from batting high in the order, where he could not easily be driven in by the following batters, so he should always be a cleanup or #5 hitter in a lineup.