Billy Butler And The Ground Ball


Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals Designated Hitter Billy Billy Butler has not done much hitting thus far. In fact, he has hit to the tune of a .154 batting average. To make matters worse, his Slugging Percentage is also .154 because he doesn’t have any extra base hits through 11 games.

During the Sunday broadcast of the Kansas City Royals’ 8th inning collapse against the Minnesota Twins, Fox Sports – Kansas City announcer Rex Hudler quoted a stat, with graphics, that up to that point, Butler had put the ball in play  27 times, and had only elevated the ball three times. This means, of course, that Butler hit the ball on the ground 24 times. That translates to a 88.9% Ground Ball Rate, which is historical awful.

I don’t know where Fox Sports came up with their numbers, so I checked a source a trust. According to Fangraphs.com, Butler’s Ground Ball Rate is still gross at 71.9%. This means he has elevated more than 3 balls all season. His Line Drive Rate is low but not pitiful at 18.8%, but his Fly Ball Rate is the lowest I have ever looked at – 9.4%.

Let’s put this into perspective. If Butler puts 500 balls into play this season, and maintains his career mark of 11.4% in Home Runs:Fly Ball Ratio, and Butler’s FB% stays at 9.4, he will hit 5 home runs – all season.

Now, that’s silly. It is still early. The season still has 151 games left. Billy Butler will end up with more than 5 home runs. I promise!

Still, Butler has a horrible bad habit of hitting the ball, usually hard, on the ground, and he has been very consistent about it over his career. His GB% is 48.4% for his career. In fact, his lowest GB% was in 2011 at 45.6%, and last season, he reached a new high (low) when he hits grounds balls 53.1% of the time.

If guys like Alcides Escobar and Jarrod Dyson have ground ball rates around 50%, that is good. These guys can put pressure on defenses by hitting ground balls and beating the throws. Billy Butler doesn’t have that luxury.

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

What I find the most frustrating about Billy Butler is that he can’t seem to make an adjustment at the plate – ever! It looks like the same swing time and time again. A guy who is capable of hitting 29 home runs or 51 doubles in a season shouldn’t have a ground ball rate over 40%.

Butler has consistently pounded the ball into the ground, and he has consistently had a degree of success with that. His career Batting Average on Balls in Play is .325, which is quite high. He does hit the ball hard enough to get through the infield on a regular basis.

This has helps him maintain a nice batting average despite a slightly lower than average Line Drive Rate of 19.5 (an average LD% is in the 20-21 range), and a low fly ball rate of 32.1%.

Going back to last season, Butler just isn’t the productive hitter he should be, and what the Kansas City Royals need him to be. It is because of his overwhelming ground ball tendencies that Butler has hit more than 19 home runs just twice in his career.

Every sign indicates that Butler is a 15-home run a year player that had a couple of good seasons. The longer Butler continues playing, while stubbornly refusing to try something different, the less likely he is to improve.

Now, Billy Butler is not going to hit .154 all season. He is not going to hit a ground ball 72% of the time either. Fifty percent is much more likely, and at this point, probable. This is just an early season slump for Butler. He is going to get hot for a period of time, and we will all jump on the Billy Butler bandwagon once again.

In the off-season, I wrote that the Royals need Billy Butler. In a sense, they do. They need the Butler of 2012. The Butler of 2013, and 2014 so far, is not helping. His numbers since the start of the 2013 season are replaceable – maybe not for $8 million, but they are replaceable.

Much of the tone of this article is due to my frustration with Butler right now. Some of it though, is due to the fact that my opinion of Butler is that he is not willing to make any adjustments. He goes to the plate, and does the same thing over and over, regardless if he is successful or not.

If there is a runner on first base and less than 2 outs , make a conscious effort to get the ball in the air. If he is trying to hit the ball in the air, and he just can’t, then that is a whole other matter. That means he isn’t as good of a hitter as everyone thinks.

The Royals are not going to be successful with Billy Butler struggling like he is. He needs to snap out of it before it is too late for the Royals to recover in 2014.

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