Transaction Scripts: Billy Butler to Oakland

Country Breakfast takes his bat to Oakland for 30 million dollars.
Country Breakfast is taking his talents to the Bay Area

It’s hard to admit mistakes. I was confused when Oakland traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester during last season’s trade deadline since it took their best right-handed power bat out of the lineup. Having great pitching in the post-season can be a weapon but if you do not get past the play-in game it does not matter. Cespedes is under contract through the end of 2015 for nine million dollars. Presently, Jon Lester is a free agent who has no intention of staying in Oakland.

Enter Billy Butler, a free agent after Kansas City’s great run to the World Series. Those same Royals had Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas start games in the Fall Classic, which sort of underscores the theme above about Lester. It is clear that Oakland miscalculated in their attempt to win the title. In an effort to provide more balance to their lineup, they have reportedly signed Billy Butler to a three-year, thirty million dollar contract. Butler is a year younger than Cespedes, though it may not feel that way. I was surprised to find out that Butler was only 28 years young. I think this signing may speak to clubhouse presence more than ability since there are already reports surfacing about Cespedes wearing out his welcome in Boston. As for Butler, is he a good fit in Oakland?

Billy Butler 2014: 151 G, 57 R, 9 HR, 66 RBI .271/.323/.379

For an organization that has prided itself upon being ahead of the analytics game, this signing is a bit of a head scratcher. This is especially strange since Butler is coming off the worst season of his career. There are some disturbing trends over the last three years with Butler as well:

Each stat will be listed in order to reflect 2012, 2013, 2014

ISO (Isolated Power): .197, .124, .107
Average:
.313, .289, .271
wOBA (Weighted On Base Average):
.377, .345, .311
wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created):
139, 117, 97 (League average 100)
HR/FB% (Home Runs/Fly Ball):
19.9, 11.7, 6.9
SwStr% (Swinging Strike):
7.4, 6.7, 8.3

I cannot just throw a bunch of numbers at you without investigating their effects. Starting with ISO, this can be a tough statistic since many power hitters bat for low average, making their slugging minus average number appear larger. Butler has reversed the trend as he hit for his highest ISO during the 2012 season which coincided with his highest batting average. That is rare but can be seen in his HR/FB% drop which hit an all-time low in 2014. In fact, he swung at and missed more pitches but the result in his approach was fewer home runs, marking the first time since 2007 that he hit fewer than 10. Can this trend be reversed?

First I looked at his home run tracker stats from the same three seasons, focusing on his average standard distance for home runs and speed off the bat. The results were very interesting. Starting with how many home runs he hit and then the stats will follow:

Billy Butler Home Runs: 2012 – 29, 2013 – 15, 2014 – 9
Average Standard Distance:
2012 – 402.2 feet, 2013 – 394.5 feet, 2014 – 411.7 feet
Average Speed off the Bat:
2012 – 104.3 MPH, 2013 – 101.7 MPH, 2014 – 106.9 MPH

So here is the confusing part, Butler actually hit the ball further, on average, and faster in 2014 on his homers than in the two previous seasons. However, his line drive, ground ball and fly ball ratios have no crazy variances to explain what happened. I used Butler’s 2013 season and did an overlay to Oakland’s ball park to see how much of an effect the move may have on his power:

Butler 2013 HR Overlay Oakland

When he pulls the ball with power, he will have no problem. Butler would lose one in this chart to right center, but a fresh start may be what he needs. A look at his zone profile from last year suggests he was hitting the ball very well in the strike zone, especially on pitches that were middle in:

butler zone profile
Butler can hit the ball to all fields and could bounce back this year. I would have to assume that even though Oakland loves to play matchups that Butler will be their full time designated hitter while seeing spot starts at first base. His career numbers do not suggest he needs a platoon split against left-handed pitching, so this provides Oakland with flexibility:

Billy Butler vs. LHP: .314/.393/.519
Billy Butler vs. RHP: .288/.347/.424

Yes there is a drop in slugging percentage, but he is more than capable of playing every day as either the designated hitter or first baseman for the Athletics. In fact, Oakland is depending on it. This move could be a stroke of genius, getting a professional hitter and good clubhouse guy to benefit the lineup or it will end badly as they overpaid for a designated hitter at a time when cheaper options are available. As for my fantasy thoughts, I say he can hit .290 in Oakland and bounce back to his 15 home run days, but let someone else chase his 2012 season. Solid, but not spectacular. Just like a country breakfast.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/QvEwPO

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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

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