25 October 2013

Should the Orioles Deal for Billy Butler?

Billy "Country Breakfast" Butler (photo via Keith Allison)
A few days ago, Buster Olney of ESPN shared this bit of information:
Billy Butler isn't a star, but for teams that need a designated hitter and are willing to spend some coin, he could present a nice upgrade. As Joe Reisel pointed out last week in our Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 series, O's DHs had a combined slash line of .236/.290/.418 in 2013. Butler, 27, hit .289/.374/.412, which was his worst offensive output since 2008, when he hit .275/.324/.400 in his second major league season. Butler took a huge step back in the power department, as he went from hitting 29 homers in 2012 to just 15 in 2013.

2007 21 KCR 92 360 23 2 8 27 55 .292 .347 .447
2008 22 KCR 124 478 22 0 11 33 57 .275 .324 .400
2009 23 KCR 159 672 51 1 21 58 103 .301 .362 .492
2010 24 KCR 158 678 45 0 15 69 78 .318 .388 .469
2011 25 KCR 159 673 44 0 19 66 95 .291 .361 .461
2012 26 KCR 161 679 32 1 29 54 111 .313 .373 .510
2013 27 KCR 162 668 27 0 15 79 102 .289 .374 .412
7 Yrs 1015 4208 244 4 118 386 601 .298 .364 .459
162 Game Avg. 162 672 39 1 19 62 96 .298 .364 .459
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/25/2013.

But his 2012 power numbers seem like the real outlier. Butler's career HR/FB rate is 11.4%. In 2013, his rate was 11.7%; in 2012, it was about 20%. In that surprising display of power, many of Butler's doubles (32) became home runs. In the three previous seasons, he hit 51, 45, and 44 doubles, respectively. What's worrisome is that he took a step back in both the doubles and home run department, though he did manage to post the best walk rate of his career (11.8%; career of 9.2%).

In all likelihood, Butler's batting skills are in the .350-.360 wOBA range -- a bit above 2013 (.345) but below 2012 (.377). (Butler has a career .357 wOBA.) And Butler would be a nice complement to an Orioles lineup that was third in the majors in slugging percentage (.431) but tied for just 17th in on-base percentage (.313). His .374 OBP last year would have led the team.

But Butler is strictly a DH, so he has to hit well to provide value. He provides nothing defensively; he's also a below average baserunner who hits into a ton of double plays. And, as Olney noted above, Butler makes $8 million in 2014 and has a $12.5 million club option in 2014 (with a $1 million buyout). That's a lot of money to spend on a DH, especially since the kind of production teams want -- the kind he had in 2012 -- is unlikely to happen again.

Here are three other notes on a potential Butler trade:

1. It's unclear how much the Orioles plan to spend this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors projects the Orioles to spend over $40 million alone on just eight arbitration-eligible players (Jim Johnson, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, and Steve Pearce). And that doesn't include Nolan Reimold and Chris Dickerson, who may not be tendered contracts. So, depending on how much the O's spend bringing their own guys back, plus whatever potential upgrades the O's make to the rotation, bullpen, second base, or outfield, there may not be a bunch of extra money to give to a DH.

2. The O's have expressed interest in Butler in the past (as early as last December), so it's not unreasonable to think they'd at least consider acquiring Butler and plugging him into the team's DH slot. Still, it's laughable that the name Dylan Bundy was even mentioned as any kind of possible trade chip for Butler, and trading Chris Tillman for Butler probably would have been a mistake. Who knows exactly what type of package (or single player) it would take for the O's to acquire Butler now, but considering his position and salary, it probably isn't too much.

3. Butler is solid against right-handed pitching (.344 wOBA), but he thrives against lefties (.391 wOBA). Danny Valencia, for instance, isn't nearly as good against righties (.276 wOBA), but, like Butler, he's excellent against lefties (.380 wOBA). Butler has played much more than Valencia so his sample size is much greater, but Valencia has shown that he can rake against left-handed pitching. Considering Valencia is only entering his first year of arbitration and will be much cheaper than Butler, maybe it makes more sense to simply use Valencia at DH against lefties and either bring in a left-handed DH option or rotate some of the regulars like Davis, Wieters, Markakis, and McLouth (if re-signed) against right-handed pitching. The platoon role is not always ideal, and it could be worth it just to have a single player slotted in as the DH every day. It's not like we're talking about a Vladimir Guerrero type situation again.


I'm not sure I can defend paying $8 million for a not-elite DH, especially when the O's have other issues to address. And if the O's paying $8 million for Butler's services seems unrealistic (it does), then there is basically no chance of his 2015 option being picked up. If the O's could acquire Butler for basically nothing, that's one thing, but paying him a hefty amount plus giving up anything of value? I'm not on board with that -- even if Butler's OBP would be a nice addition.


bturner said...

The royals are contenders. I doubt butler is available. Here's to hoping.

Philip said...

Getting a DH-only player sounds like a terrible waste of money, even if he is an outstanding hitter, which Butler is not.
I hope they think long and hard about this, and then don't do it.

Anonymous said...

What's his hitting like with runners on base, Baltimore's biggest weakness? Baltimore could use a guy who drives in runs a lot more than most anything. As one guy pointed out, you get pitching, pitching, and pitching, then guys who hit and drive in runs, then OBP guys last. Build a team to win, like the last 20 WS winners except SF.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Getting OBP guys last is not how you build an offense. And the hitting with runners in scoring position thing was not a season long issue. They struggled for the last month or two in that department. Overall they were decent. Not sure where that narrative came from.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

2013 MLB numbers with RISP: .255/.336/.388 (AL only: .258/.335/.398)

With all runners on: .259/.328/.397 (AL only: .261/.330/.405)

Orioles in 2013 with RISP: .266/.329/.435

With all runners on: .273/.326/.447

So, while the O's weren't as good down the stretch with RISP and all runners on, overall they did just fine and hit for more power than both the AL and MLB averages.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think by the end of the year the announcers simply have a brain dump and say pretty much anything. One of the cliches run to is the concept that the team is not performing in the clutch or with runners on base and that often is either supported with nothing or with numbers collected over arbitrary time points.

With regard to a successful team, I don't think there is really a A to B to C time of progression position by position or player type by player type. Earl Weaver was probably right in that you need great pitching, great fielding, guys who do not get out, and then maybe some hitters. He tended to value guys in that way unless they were big homerun mashers then he might place them behind the great fielders. However, the point I mean to make is that he needed them all at once. Not one before the other, some were more important in his mind, but all were needed.

The current regime and the one past has tried to beef up pitching internally while hoping some high level amateur finds can become stars, milking the current stars, and then finding the misplaced item on the bargain rack. This is really what all successful teams do. Those that manage to capitalize on low payroll high producers are typically the most successful teams because it is hard to buy a winner even if you spend 170 MM.

Anonymous said...

Not a lot of power bat options out there since so many teams are seeking them plus many of the suspect fielding outfielders (Cruz and Beltran) still want to play in the field. So get Butler because you want offense and you've already paid more for less with BRob and Markakis both of whom could be replaced for their offense.

Anonymous said...

With interleague play, a DH has to a studd. That would be a healthy DH on the bench making 8-12m/yr.
Can't field, can't run and walks are cancelled by DP's.
The Royals would have to agree to pay at least half his salary.