Billy Butler: The Power Bat Tribe Fans Seek

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Progressive Field Could Help Butler Rebound in a Big Way

If there is one thing fans of the Cleveland Indians love to complain about, it is the lack of a true power bat in the lineup. And given Cleveland’s dismal run production down the stretch in 2014, often spoiling great pitching performances, there may be some validity to their complaints.

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Unfortunately for the Tribe, there are very few true power bats in baseball any more. Power numbers are declining across the board while strikeouts multiply and ERA falls. That makes guys with pop more highly coveted than ever, and likely leaves the Indians out of the bidding range for elite free agent bats like Victor Martinez.

Enter Billy Butler: a young, country strong power alternative. He is only 28 years old, a career .295/.359/.449 hitter with an All-Star appearance to his name. Butler has hit .300 or better three times, and had an on-base percentage above .360 five years in-a-row from 2009-2013. He has hit 20 homers twice despite playing in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, and has driven in 90 runs three times.

Butler had a $12.5 million club option for 2014. During the World Series, the NY Daily News reported that Ned Yost was planning for life without Butler, and November 1, the club opted to exercise the $1 million buyout in his contract rather than pick up his option. Perhaps Kansas City plans to throw the money at free-agent starter James Shields in the hopes of retaining him, or maybe they simply want to invest in a player with more versatility.

Butler’s biggest limitation is his inability to play in the field; he is nothing more than a DH. With the Royals likely to cut him loose, Butler will probably only garner attention from AL clubs seeking a full-time DH. Though someone forgot to remind Butler he was one-dimensional in the ALDS:

Despite the Indians’ focus on collecting versatile players, the Tribe would be smart to take a hard look at Butler.

The Indians are in a unique position heading into 2015. Nick Swisher is under contract for $15 million next season and coming off dual knee surgeries that ended his horrendous 2014 early. Despite Swisher’s knee problems, GM Chris Antonetti has indicated the Indians would like to use Swisher in the outfield on a part-time basis next season, possibly opening up the DH slot. Swisher also figures to need rest days frequently after rehabbing both knees, especially if the Indians have him roaming the outfield a few nights every week.

Swisher’s injury history, coupled with part-time duty in the outfield, presents the Indians with the opportunity to ink Butler to a multi-year deal. Coming off a down year where he slashed .271/.323/.379 with 9 homers, 66 RBI, an ISO of .107, and -0.3 WAR, Butler will likely be a relatively cheap option when compared with other veteran sluggers in the market.

Oct 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler reacts after hitting a RBI double against the San Francisco Giants in the second inning during game six of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Butler appeared to become impatient at the plate in 2015, perhaps trying to do too much in a contract year, as his BB% dropped from 11.8% in 2013 to 6.8% in 2014. This explains his corresponding drop in OBP and swinging at more balls out of the zone can help explain his lack of run production in 2014 as well. With Kauffman Stadium ranked as the 22nd most difficult park to hit in for 2014, and Progressive Field 11th on that list, Butler seems like a safe bet to rebound to his career averages in 2014. Financial security should translate to patience at the plate, more quality at-bats, and good run production. He can provide protection for Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Swisher when he plays the outfield, perhaps enhancing their power numbers as well.

Butler also provides value to the Indians as a guy who crushes left-handed pitchers. Butler hit .325 against lefties in 2014, and only .255 against righties, though his career mark against righties is .288. Meanwhile, Nick Swisher batted a dismal .168 against lefties in 2014, and none of his eight homers came against southpaws. In general, the Indians struggle to hit lefties, and Butler offers demonstrated success in that role.

Butler is a proven power bat with the potential to be a huge threat in Terry Francona’s lineup. His provides insurance for the injury-prone Swisher, and allows Tito to utilize Swish in the outfield while providing him regular rest. Butler can thrive at Progressive Field, and perhaps most importantly, the Indians can steal an asset from the division rival and AL champion Royals.

Plus, who doesn’t love a little Country Breakfast?

Statistics via Fangraphs

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