Everyone has a vice. If you’re like me, you have multiple vices. My favorite vice, fantasy baseball, is right around the corner, so I just couldn’t help but look for some interesting angle to write on in January. Analysis of off-season moves are done by, well everyone. Rankings and season previews are more of a spring-training time piece. Writing about the shittiness of any one of my Houston Astros’ players value (except Mr. Bourn and WayRod, duh) is pointless for so many reasons. So what does that really leave a guy with in January? How about a little head-to-head action…by position. I’m not talking about looking at the top guys at each position, but rather the guys in those second – possibly third if you’re in a deep league – tier guys that can really make or break your draft and season. Over the next week and a half, I will take a look at a couple of guys from each position and see how they match up versus their higher drafted counterparts. As per usual, any ideas, thoughts, or beliefs (both supporting and opposing) are welcomed.
First base is a rather deep position this year with Joey Votto emerging as the hitter many have seen coming, Adrian Gonzalez getting to trade Petco for Fenway, Prince Fielder heading into free agency after the season (I’m a sucker for a guy playing for a new, mega-sized contract), as well as your standards like Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeira. If you are not fortunate enough to secure one of those guys, then whom do you take a flier on?
Billy Butler: 24 years old (Turns 25 before the season starts)
2010 slash: .318/.388/.469
Bill James 2011 Predicted Slash: .307/.377/.476
I feel that I have to put Butler here because he continues to be an intriguing case. For one, I was a Butler owner last year who was disappointed by his power outage. Secondly, he is just 24-years-old and (gulp) hopefully entering a breakout year before he reaches his prime. For starters let’s just remind ourselves that Butler has the likes of Kila Ka’aihue, Jeff Francoeur (Yes, this Jeff Francoeur) to provide protection in the Royals Lineup this season, and because of this, there is an automatic notch off of Butler’s production. But enough with the obvious. Let’s take a look at some stats and see what we can gleam about ‘ol Billy’s future.
The big knock on Butler has been the lack of power he has shown in the bigs. In the minors Billy raked, and not just with doubles. He was able to get the ball to leave the yard at a staggering rate. Now after watching some film, I think that to regain and maintain his 30+ HR potential for an extended length of time, he needs to make a slight adjustment to his swing. But 25 bombs a year is still nice to go along with a .315 average. But can Billy keep this average? He has an uncanny ability for being able to hit gap-to-gap (thus all the doubles) so that is a nice start.
Looking at his BABIP for 2009 and 2010 gives me reason for concern. In ‘09 he had a BABIP of .332 (apprx. 32 points above the league average) and a .341 (apprx. 41 points above the league average) BABIP in 2010. However, this high rate can be explained by his average Z-Contact% of 90.7%. When a pitch is in the strike zone, Butler rarely swings and misses. Top that off with an average O-Swing% of 25.4 and you have a recipe for success; don’t swing at bad pitches and don’t miss good pitches. This definitely suggests that Butler can sustain a batting average of over .300 for an extended period of time.
While a .300+ avg. is nice, it is not enough to be a solid fantasy first baseman. What about his RBI production? (I know, RBI is a worthless stat that in no way shape or form helps recognize the skill of said player, but it is a stat measured in almost every single fantasy baseball league. Ever.) I think with the addition of Alcides Escobar (projected .300 OBP) to go along with Chris Getz (projected .333 OBP) at the top of the Royals lineup, Butler might have a shot to reach the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his young career. It will probably be closer to the 90-92 RBI, but he still has a legitimate shot. Looking only at batting average and RBI, these stats are quite comparable to Miguel Cabrera. Let’s look at another power stat, one that I put a lot of value on…ISO power.
In 2010 Butler’s ISO power was a paltry .151. This is especially rough considering that just a year before it was .191. This would explain the drop in HR production from 2009 to 2010, although I am definitely looking for this to rebound to around that .190 range. Again, this is not what it needs to be for 30+ HR potential, but it should be enough for him to produce around 20-25 jacks.
And what about his ability to draw walks? Among all eligible 1B with at least 475 PA last season, Butler ranked 6th in walks and posted a career high 10.2% BB rate. This shows that his eye is maturing. Match that with a BB/K ratio of 0.88 and you are talking about a guy who is going to get on base. His OBP from last year was .388 and has been climbing each year since becoming an everyday player in 2008. Again, this screams volumes about the maturation of his eye and overall approach at the plate.
So let’s look at what we have on our hands with Billy Butler. We have a guy entering his 4th season as an everyday player, at the age of 24-turning 25. We have a gap-to-gap hitter that showed excellent HR production in the minor leagues. He is a 1B with the skill set and ability to post: .320 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI, .380 OBP. If we look at other first basemen throughout the league, Butler’s potential puts him alongside guys like Justin Morneau, Kendry Morales, and Adrian Gonzalez (if you are willing to trade 35 BA points for 13 HR’s). If you ask me, Billy Butler is not a bad option at first base in deeper fantasy leagues.