Somebody had to write about Billy Butler, and I do kind of enjoy finding creative ways to say “this guy really sucked,” so let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s the long and short of it, as told through breakfast analogies: Country Breakfast was a full meal for even the heftiest appetite back in 2012. Last year, he played more like Continental Breakfast, albeit one that still had a waffle iron and maybe even some sausage links under a heat lamp. This year, Butler amounted to little more than a bowl of store-brand corn flakes and an overripe banana. Or, say, a crusty croissant. With no butter.
I’m not even sure where to begin, because Butler regressed in so many ways. His nine home runs were his fewest since hitting eight — in a whopping 243 fewer plate appearances — as a rookie in 2007. His isolated power was a career-worst .107. His 6.8% walk rate was a career-low. His 15.9% strikeout rate was 0.4% shy of being a career-high.
A big part of the reason his plate discipline stats were so bad, by his standards, is that he swung at more pitches this year (47.7%) than ever before. He swung at way more pitches outside the zone than ever before, with a 31.4% O-Swing% according to PITCHf/x (Baseball Info Solutions has it all the way up at 34.1%). Either way, it’s easily a career-high for a guy who usually floats around the 28% mark. You know what else really didn’t help? The fact that all those swings outside the zone generated whiffs 36% of the time. Guess what? That’s a career-worst too.
Even more telling is just what types of pitches Butler was chasing in 2014. Check out these heat maps of his swing rate. The first map is his full career up to 2014, the second is this year’s:
Well, that sure explains things quite a bit. Butler — the very same guy who mashed 29 homers two years ago — just spent an entire season swinging at nearly half of the pitches he saw that crossed the plate below the zone. That is about the best recipe for a power outage I could ever dream up. What are you doing swinging at that stuff, Billy? If you’re a supposed power hitter, it’s probably best to lay off pitches that require a 9-iron to hit in the air, especially if you’re as slow as Billy Butler.
As for the results of Butler trying to play golf on a baseball field…not good. Check out all the power he generated in his adventures below the zone:
Predictably terrible. When you think about it, this one bad habit is a huge part of every single area of Butler’s game that suffered this year. You don’t hit home runs when you’re swinging at nearly half the pitches you see below the zone. You also don’t walk much. You also strike out more.
And that, in large part, is how the No. 5 fantasy first baseman in his age-26 season deteriorated into the No. 21 fantasy first baseman in his age-28 season.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.