by John Viril—
For most of his career, Kansas City Royals DH Billy Butler has been an extra-base machine. He’s averaged 64 extra base hits over the last four seasons. He’s topped 40 doubles 3 times, including 50 in 2009. His slugging percentage has exceeded .460 every season since he turned 23.
This year he’s on pace for 46 extra base hits and his slugging percentage is .410.
What happened to Billy’s power?
The first number that jumps out at us is Butler’s decline in the percentage of fly balls that end up over the fence. His HR/FB percentage is a low 9.4, considerably down from his 19.9% rate in 2012 and his career rate of 11.4%. That’s a steep drop after what appeared to be a power breakthrough last season in which Butler set career highs in home runs (29) and slugging percentage (.510).
At fangraphs, we see that Billy’s swing percentage is a career-low 40.3%. He’s also taking more walks than ever before with a 14.0% walk rate. This is a massive surge over his career 9.1% rate.
These facts suggest that Butler’s power decline has been caused by teams pitching around him due to lack of protection in the Kansas City batting order. That’s certainly part of the reason. The chart below shows that pitchers are throwing him fewer strikes.
Digging into his pitch results on TexasLeaguers.com, it also appears that Butler has cut down on his swing vs. past years. We see a significant drop in his Whiff Percentage (swing and miss) vs. off-speed pitches in particular:
2013 (Through 7/2/13)
FF=Four Seam Fastball, FT=Two Seam Fastball, SL=Slider, CH=Change up, CU=Curve, SI=Sinker, FC=Cut Fastball
Plus, when Billy hits the ball, it doesn’t go as far—as we can see from his hit charts:
Hit charts and pitch result tables from TexasLeaguers.com
By my count, not only does Billy have 6 fewer home runs through July 2nd vs. last season, he also has 4 hits that went to the warning track vs. 10 last season, and significantly fewer deep fly-ball outs. If we examine his batted ball data, we also notice his ground ball rate is a career high 51.3%. Say what? Sabermetric types will tell you that ground balls result in a higher batting average than bills hit in the air (but fewer extra-base hits) That might be true for most players; but that observation is unlikely to apply to the speed-challenged Butler since he can only rarely beat out infield base hits.
As much as I cringe at telling a Royals hitter that he needs to swing more aggressively while at the plate—in Butler’s case—that might very well be true.