Butler the cornerstone to Royals' future

Proud owners of the best farm system in baseball, the Kansas City Royals are targeting 2012 as the year in which their wave of talented prospects will begin contributing at the big-league level. Until then, the Royals will field a team that may bear little resemblance to future incarnations.

After signing a four-year, $30 million deal last week, Billy Butler is the only position player, officially, under contract for 2012. Whether at first base or designated hitter, Butler, who turns 25 on April 18, is the foundation on which Kansas City will build its playoff dreams.

In 2009, Butler joined a remarkable list of players provided by the Elias Sports Bureau who hit 20 home runs and 50 doubles by age 23 (defined as age on June 30 of season): Hank Greenberg, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Grady Sizemore and Miguel Cabrera. Because those counting statistics declined in 2010, along with his RBI total, Butler was perceived to have had a down year. Still, he set career highs in batting average, hits, walks and OPS, and his peripheral numbers also improved impressively.

Billy Butler

ButlerButler increased his on-base percentage with two strikes from .285 to an outstanding .330 (MLB average was .266). His quality at-bat percentage in close- and late-game situations improved from 34 to 48 percent, while his quality at-bat percentage with runners in scoring position rose from 45 to 54 percent. That indicates that Butler’s drop-off in RBI production was more a result of fewer opportunities than poor performance.

He also made significant strides against fastballs and right-handed pitching, raising his batting average from .318 to .340 against fastballs, and from .289 to .330 against righties.

Left-handed pitchers, on the other hand, were primarily responsible for Butler’s struggles and power dip (see chart). Some of that may have been bad luck though, as his in-play percentage against southpaws increased from 47 to 57 percent, and both his miss percentage and chase percentage dropped as well.

Billy Butler Last 2 Seasons

Although his numbers against lefties dropped, one bright spot is that Butler made more contact against lefties in 2010. His in-play percentage against lefties increased from 47 to 57 percent, while his miss percentage dropped from 18 percent to 12 percent. Also dropping was his chase percentage, from 22 to 18 percent.

Since Butler’s contact increased versus lefties, but his well-hit average decreased (.279 vs. LHP in 2009, .198 vs. LHP in 2010), the key for him to take another step forward will be turning contact into solid contact. If Butler can do that, he could find himself the centerpiece of a potent Royals lineup before his new contract expires.