In a surprise move today the A’s gave Billy Butler a three-year, $30 million deal. My initial thoughts when I heard the news was the length of the contract was too long and $10M a year for a DH who doesn’t hit for a lot of power is too much. However, after reading David Schoenfield’s take on the signing I no longer believe the contract is a salary dump.
The fact of the matter is the A’s do not have a lot of money and in order for them to be successful they need to take gambles on players like Butler. They cannot afford a Nelson Cruz or even a Melky Cabrera (whom I think he would be a great fit in the two spot for that lineup) so why not take a chance on Butler? From 20011-13 he had a .369 OBP and hit 63 home runs (which averages out to 21 a season). Obviously the power numbers are skewed by the 29 home runs in 2012 that was extremely fluky, but he still averaged 15-20 home runs a year for five straight years before 2014.
There are two ways to interrupt his career low 6.9% HR/FB rate. A) he’s getting old (he turns 29 in mid-April) and this is the beginning to the end or B) he got unlucky with the HR/FB rate and should positively regress. After looking at the data I believe in the latter.
He had a brutal April that dragged down his overall numbers. He hit .224/.285/.255 with zero home runs and only three extra base hits. After April he hit .282/.332/.406 with nine home runs and a 8.2% HR/FB rate.
Any time a player suddenly sees a sharp decline in power I look at the percentage of extra base hits to get an idea if he’s making the same amount of hard contact as before. Usually if the extra base hit percentage is relatively the same as the past I’m more inclined to believe the HR/FB rate should improve. From 2011-13 he had 167 extra base hits, which represents 31.3% of his hits. Starting in May of last year he had 38 extra base hits, which represents 29.9% of his hits. Therefore, the power numbers should positively regress in 2015.
He’s slow and hits into a lot of double plays, but for the A’s offense that’s not a problem. The A’s offense is built upon getting on-base and hitting home runs. Butler may not hit more than 20 home runs, but he should be on-base a lot for Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt.
Butler will probably bat fifth, behind Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss (against right handed pitching). He’ll probably bat cleanup against left handed pitching. Butler is going to have a lot of RBI opportunities. Yoensis Cespedes hit in that area of the lineup for the A’s and at the time of trade to the Red Sox Cespedes was eighth in the majors is plate appearances with runners in scoring position. If Butler can stay healthy (and there’s no reason to believe he can’t because he’s never hurt despite the poor body) he could have 100-plus RBIs.
Overall, Billy Butler will be a great buy low going into drafts in 2015. The power and batting average should positively regress and he’s going to have a lot of RBI opportunities in that lineup.
Lastly, the A’s window is one, maybe two years so I wouldn’t be shocked if Butler doesn’t finish out the contract with the A’s. If he bounces back there is a high likelihood he’s traded to a team looking for a right handed bat. If that happens it’s a one year $10M deal for a potential 2 WAR player, which would be a great value.