Monday, August 20, 2012

An Explanation for Billy Butler's Power Increase....Sort Of

              In past years, many people have complained about Billy Butler’s lack of power for a DH and about him being a “base-clogger”.  Many people have failed to notice that Billy Butler is the most consistent and best hitter on the team.  Billy has been mostly the same hitter since 2007.  Lots of walks, not a lot of strikeouts, some power (but not enough, apparently), and lots of hits.  Well, that has changed this year.  Butler is on pace for over 30 home runs for the first time in his career; he already bested his previous career high of 21 home runs set in 2009.  What is causing this power increase?  Is it his “Country Breakfast” moniker?  Probably not, so let us delve into some stats!

               Using the same statistics I introduced in my previous post, we can see a blurry picture.  Mr. Breakfast’s LD% is at a career high 24.6%; his fly ball percentage (FB%) is at a career low 28.4%; most importantly, his HR/FB% is at a ridiculous 23.8%.  His career average HR/FB% is 11.4%, which is the MLB average.  So, a far greater proportion than normal of his fly balls are going for home runs, and he appears to be hitting the ball harder.  However, this doesn’t really explain why he’s hitting longer fly balls and why he’s hitting the ball harder.

               I looked at what type of pitches he is seeing this year compared to previous years (thanks to Pitch F/X and Baseball Prospectus for that data).  It appears that pitchers are throwing him fewer fastballs in favor of curveballs and changeups.  In addition, Mr. Breakfast is showing slightly more selectivity at the plate; he is swinging less overall and also swinging less at stuff outside the strike zone.  Pitchers seem to be missing their location.  A sizeable portion of Butler’s home runs has been on pitches inside and belt high, and pitchers are hitting that location slightly more often than normal.

                Given these data, the only explanation of which I can think is that Billy is taking advantage of pitchers throwing him offspeed stuff and missing with their location.  However, almost all of Billy’s home runs have been off fastballs.  The power increase may be sustainable; it may not.  The picture I’ve painted is a little murky.  It’s common for hitters to peak in power around his age.  I know that I will enjoy the chase for Steve Balboni’s 36 home run record, though.

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