According to recent reports, the Mariners “covet” Billy Butler, the Kansas City Royals slugger. In fact, they like him so much that they would be willing to trade one of their top pitching prospects to get him. So the question arises, should the Mariners trade Taijuan Walker for Butler?
Butler is a good hitter, with a career 121 wRC + and 123 OPS +. This would put him in the Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Montero range of hitters (at least using their 2012 numbers). He had the best year in his career in 2012, at least according to wRC +, but his walk rate slightly declined and his strikeout rate increased (but it was still a solid K/BB). He has good, but not elite, and not near elite power (although according to batted ball data, he has a homer over 460, which wow). In fact, his Isolated Slugging was (in 2012) under Nick Swisher’s (who doesn’t have power as his main skill either) and was only .012 points above Michael Saunders. He has never hit 30 homers in a season (29 in 2012 was his career high), and there is no reason to think that he would when playing in the more pitcher friendly Safeco. But this is not to say that Butler doesn’t cream the ball. Here is his batted ball data sorted by distance:
For comparison, here is Jesus Montero‘s data (because numbers are nothing without context):
Butler’s average batted ball distance is 268.031 (very good) feet for his career. In 2012, it was 271.091, so a little better, but not necessarily considerably better. His line drive rate increased by nearly 5%, but it came from his FB %, not his GB % and according to Baseball Reference’s data, the line drive percentage only went up by 1 %. I just wouldn’t trust that data. He was really good against both lefties and righties in 2012, but better against lefties (as expected). He has been above average against both in his career, but his peripherals are pretty mediocre against right-handed pitchers.
He doesn’t see a ton of pitches at the plate, in fact he was league average in 2012, but he also doesn’t strike out for a guy that provides power. In fact, his contact percentage is not only above league average, it was just under 3 studs in Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, and Robinson Cano in 2012. There is so much to like about Billy Butler as a hitter. However, there are 3 different facets (Hitting/Defense/Baserunning) to position players and the other two is where Butler loses his value.
Despite being 26 years old, Butler has played more games (126 more games!) at DH than he has at first. When he has played at first, he hasn’t been very good. He doesn’t get to as many balls as most first basemen, and every single defensive metric alive (there are some problems with measuring 1st baseman with defensive metrics, but just the eye test says he isn’t very good either) has him as not only as a below average first baseman, but a really bad first baseman.
He is also one the slowest human beings imaginable, which isn’t surprising considering his lack of range. Only 9 players in the MLB (qualified hitters) had a worse speed score than Billy Butler, and two of them were Mariners (Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak). He is really durable, but that has to be helped by the fact that he doesn’t play much defense and obviously doing nothing spectacular on the bases (which I think makes Ichiro Suzuki‘s durability amazing. As he has played in at least 157 games every year since 2001 except one and 160 games every year since 2004 except one. Ichiro steals bases and plays in the outfield, and is even a little bit of a showboat out there).
These ties to the DH types like Butler and Mike Napoli with the Mariners really baffles me. Where does one put John Jaso? And why did they trade for Jesus Montero (perhaps this is too simplistic, but it really seems like the Mariners were hoping Montero would become Butler with perhaps a little more power)? I would understand going after a first baseman (because Smoak still isn’t the answer, or you at least can pretend he is going into the season), but Butler really isn’t that, or at least not a very good one. I also understand spending big money on Nick Swisher or Josh Hamilton (and it looks like the latter isn’t going to happen, at least according to comments by Jack Z). Billy Butler is a nice player to have, but he is extremely limited. He is an everyday player yes, but he is a role player and, perhaps most importantly, a role player that doesn’t really fit on the Mariners. Would you play him at first, and watch his defensive value hurt the team and just point out that his offensive value makes him worth starting? Then you could bench Smoak and use Jaso and Montero as the DH/C. Or would you DH him, keep Smoak at first (not solving your problem), and platoon Jaso and Montero? Obviously if you traded for Billy Butler, you would figure out how to play him, but there really is a question as to which problem he solves. The Mariners need good hitting, and Butler is a good hitter, but the (lack of) positional value makes him much less valuable. If you are trading Taijuan Walker, a pitcher that has a chance to be a top of the rotation pitcher, it would seem to be wise to trade him for a player that has more overall skill and positional value than Butler. This doesn’t even bring up the contract situation. If you trade for Butler, you are trading for 3 years of control. The salary is reasonable, 8 million a year in both 2013 and 2014 along with a 12.5 million dollar option in 2015, but you would be watching him walk away at age 29, which would be bizarre (as that is when Walker would really be taking off in the minors if everything goes according to plan, and I should emphasize that it might not). The Mariners are in a position where they could conceivable compete in a really tough AL West within the next couple of years, but they really need a couple of pieces. They really need a good outfielder that can hit, along with 1 or 2 more good hitters, and at least 1 or 2 more good starting pitchers (which could and should come from the minors within the next couple of years). I just don’t think that Billy Butler brings you that much closer, at least not enough that you should part with your best prospect. If you really want a big slugger with defensive questions, pay the money for Mike Napoli. Don’t pay the baseball talent, pay the money.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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