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Yep, Billy’s Still Good

I’m not sure yet if it’s sad or okay that I have a different feeling after a Royals win than after a Royals loss. Something about the day after a win just makes everything seem much better. And yesterday’s win was one that was satisfying on so many levels. On the day where it seemed like the disdain for Billy Butler’s lack of power began to boil over, he hit a game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Yes, it barely cleared the wall, perhaps adding to the fire, but it was still his first homer in quite awhile and it was his first career walk-off homer as well, so that’s pretty cool for him. For the Royals, they’ve won five games against the Angels this year and three of them were by way of the walk-off homer. In only one win so far against them have they not waited until their final at bat. I’d be okay with a little less drama, guys.

I didn’t really want to talk about Billy Butler because I think all the talk about him not being good enough is ridiculously stupid, but on a day when the message boards overflow with talk about his inabilities and then he wins the game, you sort of have to, right? The criticism of Butler comes for three reasons. There is not necessarily an order in which people criticize him. I guess it depends on the person. So, in no particular order, the three are his lack of speed, his lack of defensive ability and the fact that he’s huge and doesn’t have any power. It’s nearly impossible to argue with the first two. He is slow, and he’s also not that good defensively. Saying he doesn’t have power, though, is pretty short sighted. He does have more doubles than anyone in baseball between 2009 and 2010. Sure, the occasional double is just a well placed grounder in the outfield, but you don’t get nearly 100 doubles in two seasons without some serious pop. Also, you have to remember that Kauffman Stadium is not a park conducive to homers and Butler played the second half of last season with an injured hand, which saps power. That doesn’t excuse his four homers this year, but it does explain last season.

Something that is beginning to make the rounds is that offense truly is down this season. It’s down to the point that it’s drastically altering OPS+ numbers. For those of you who don’t know, OPS+ is a measure used to determine a player’s OPS compared to the league average. 100 is average, so if a player’s OPS+ is 110, he is 10% better than average. It also takes into account park effects, so a .900 OPS in Petco Park is much better than a .900 OPS in Coors Field. Over the last two years, Billy Butler has posted OPSes of .853 and .857, which have led to OPS+ totals of 125 and 134. So when people argue that Butler held steady, it could be argued that’s true, but relative to what the rest of the league was doing, he actually improved greatly between 2009 and 2010. This year, people look at his OPS of .822 and they see a dramatic decrease in production, but in reality his OPS+ is 133. When the Royals were touting Butler through the minor league system, the hope was that he’d become a superstar bat rather than merely a very good one, but even if he has topped out as a 130-140 OPS+ type of guy he’ll be in excellent company.

One played compared to Butler often is John Olerud, and while they went about things in very different ways, as hitter they are quite comparable. I don’t think Butler is going to have the outlier outstanding seasons that Olerud had in 1993 and 1998, but he’s a consistent bat who will get his doubles and about 20-25 homers per season. If you liked John Olerud, consider that he had an OPS+ of 133 before he declined at the end of his career. No, OPS+ isn’t the best indicator of talent, but it’s interesting to see the group of excellent hitters who have made a long, very productive career of being in the same range as Billy Butler over the last couple of seasons. Will Clark’s career OPS+? 137. Bobby Abreu? 131. I’ve gotten more into one statistic than I had hoped to, but my hope here is that it shows how good Butler actually has been.

It seems like it’s a pretty common trend for fans to get on one of the better players on the team because they’re just not quite good enough for them. I think that’s something that is really interesting, especially for a team like the Royals where bright spots have been few and far between. I’ll admit that my hopes for Butler were higher than what he is producing at this time, but when you take a step back and look around the league and look at exactly what Butler is doing, it’s hard to argue that he is a definite asset to the Royals lineup. During a game, I might get upset with Butler for grounding into a double play or hitting a ground ball to shortstop when I feel like he could have driven the pitch, but over the course of the season he’s the type of player who just ends up with his stats by the end of the year. The only thing that concerns me about Billy is his attitude, and that’s in regard to the designated hitter role that has been thrust upon him. He doesn’t seem especially thrilled with it, but it’s hard to argue with the better glove of Hosmer at first at this point. As long as he doesn’t get to down in the dumps, I’ll be totally fine with Billy. Hosmer said it himself yesterday after the game. Butler is the leader of the team. It’s hard to argue with the Hos.

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