If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I am a Billy Butler defender. With roughly eight weeks left in his Kansas City Royals career, I guess I’m going to go down with that particular ship. Even last year, Butler has been a valuable player for the Royals, despite his flaws. I wish at some point the Royals had put more offensive talent around him; Butler was never the type that was going to carry a team by himself (by that I mean a Hall of Fame-level talent), but he would have been a great secondary piece. Even 1985 George Brett had Steve Balboni, Hal McRae, and Willie Wilson. Butler’s seasons by OPS+ are similar to typical McRae seasons.
Having said that, I would never pretend that he has put up acceptable numbers this season. A .701 OPS and a 92 OPS+ are not what the Royals had in mind (and I’m sure not what Butler had in mind as the Royals will likely buy out his contract for a paltry $1 million after the season, making him a free agent). He’s far from the only problem bat on the roster, but yes, he is a problem. This despite a .298/.344/.439 line since June 1; sure, it’s an arbitrary endpoint, but if he does that for the last two months, I think most of us would take it.
But to my point (at last, you think to yourself), when I was researching this article, I was originally trying to figure out what happened to Butler’s power this year. But then I noticed this:
Butler, 2014: 440 plate appearances, .276/.325/.376, 6 HR, 44 RBI, 92 OPS+
Eric Hosmer, 2014: 445 plate appearances, .267/.312/.377, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 89 OPS+
And that brings me to something I don’t understand about this franchise. Where is the accountability? More accurately, where is the consistent accountability?
Look at how the Royals have treated these similar hitters this year: one was briefly benched (until the other was injured); one was not only in the lineup every day, but hit second most of the time. One was called out for lack of production by the manager; one has struggled for long stretches both this year and last year without a peep from management.
The point here is not that Butler got treated poorly, although you might expect a veteran who has shown plenty of production in the past to get a little better treatment. This year anyway, Butler has probably deserved to have his overall lack of success noticed. The point is that Hosmer has gotten away with being just as big a disappointment without anyone noticing. I can’t really blame the portion of the fanbase that pounces on Butler’s every mistake for giving Hosmer a pass—they are just following the lead of Royals management.
I’m statistically inclined, but I have to admit this is one of those areas where advanced metrics can’t help us determine the answer to my main question: would the Royals be better off if they held everyone on the roster accountable for their failures? Of course, you can’t tear guys down every time they fail; baseball is a game of failure. But four months of subpar hitting ought to get some sort of comment from the manager or general manager. Let’s put it this way: do you think Detroit would let a promising young hitter struggle for most of three seasons without taking some sort of action? How about the Yankees or Cardinals or Red Sox?
This is one area where the Royals really frustrate me. We’ve watched Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle for months now, and yet the front office seems to focus on another player entirely while letting those two coast along. My feeling is that at some point, if the Royals really want to win a title, they are going to need to let those two players—the cornerstones of their future plans—know that they are not meeting expectations. And then follow through if necessary.