As SB Nation's Royals Review passes along, the real Royals Major League Baseball team is willing to listen to offers for their 27 year old DH. Known for years in the fantasy community as a high batting average, moderate power, counting stat type of player, Butler broke out in a big way during the 2012 season, smashing 29 homers and driving in 107 RBI's for the Kansas City baseball team. Butler would finish the 2012 season ranked as the number 5 first baseman on the ESPN player rater, between the likes of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Naturally this prompted fantasy mangers to select him much higher in 2013 drafts, ultimately slotting his ADP in at 37.8 and as the 6th overall first baseman taken according to ESPN.
Unfortunately for these owners, Butler did not repeat his power and run producing numbers in 2013 and in fact posted his worst season in the big leagues according to wRC+ since 2007, with a figure of 116. While Butler was still able to provide investors with a solid batting average (and on base percentage for owners in OBP leagues), he tanked across the other standard rotisserie categories. Butlers final 2013 rotisserie line would read as follows: 62 runs, 82 RBI, 15 HR, 0 SB, .289 BA / .374 OBP - all despite playing 162 games. Yikes
The root of Butler's problems appear to stem from a complete lack of power, which shows up both in his home run totals and his isolated power (ISO). Prior to 2012 Butler had only eclipsed 20 home runs once (2009 - 21HR) but at age 27, an age many predict power will spike, coupled with a solid approach at the plate and above average contact skills, a 20-25 home run season in 2013 was not an out of this world projection.
In 2013 Butler saw his average fly ball distance drop from 297 feet in 2012 to 279 feet in 2013. His ISO also shows this drop, as it fell .073 between the two campaigns. To add insult to injury, ESPN's Home Run Tracker classified 7 of Butler's homers as "just enough", and 2 as "lucky". This is not the typical power aging curve you see from a 27 year old DH/1B type, but perhaps there was an injury, or poor conditioning - at least I hope so.
Over the last two seasons Butler has also appeared to have lost the ability to consistently lift the ball in the form of fly balls. As we all know by now, the ball has to be hit in the air in order for it to clear the fence. Butler's career fly ball percentage now sits at 32.4%, however, between 2008 and 2011 those figures were as follows: 34.6%, 34.6%, 34.0% and 35.8%. His magical 2012 season saw that figure drop to an unimpressive 28.8% and in 2013 it continued to fall, dropping to 26.4%. The league average fly ball rate in 2013 was 34.3%.
You may be asking yourself then, how did Butler manage to hit 29 home runs in 2012 with a sub 30.0% fly ball rate? Well, he was able to turn more fly balls into home runs that year (19.9% HR/FB in 2012) - unfortunately for Butler and his fantasy owners, that number regressed heavily this season to 11.7% (career 11.4%)
So are the Royals smart to be shopping the one time potential super star, Butler, this off season? Yes and no. Despite losing a tremendous amount of power and ability to lift the ball last year, I refuse to believe at 28 years old Butler's career is on this sharp of a decline. Billy does not show any significant lefty/righty splits and has shown a strong ability over his major league career to get on base. Butler is also an above average contact hitter, posting an 84% contact rate in 2013 as compared to the league average rate of 79.5%. This should lead to a continued high batting average, with the chance to drive in more runs assuming he's hitting in a decent line up. The money owed on his contract is not prohibitive as he's set to make 8 million next year and 12 million in 2015. He'll more than likely never become a 30 homer hitter, but he does enough other things right, a rebound in overall fantasy production next year seems inevitable.
For fantasy owners in standard mixed leagues Butler is a nice CI option as he allows you to take a risk with an unproven power bat at 1B (think Anthony Rizzo, Ike Davis, Justin Smoak types this season). Fantasy owners in AL only leagues will more than likely be starting Butler at 1B and will need to temper their expectations regarding future power at the draft table. A return to 20 homers and 90 RBI's is likely, but bank on any more and you'll likely be disappointed.