Billy Butler: Human, or robot designed to hit doubles?
A few weeks ago, I texted a friend of mine that Billy Butler, DH for the Kansas City Royals, is my favorite hitter in baseball. I like his name, his girth, how he doesn’t play defense ever and how he destroys the notion of what a prototypical designated hitter should be.
Traditional baseball wisdom professes—among a litany of other mostly incorrect maxims—that your leadoff hitter should be a speedster, your No. 2 hitter has to be a good bunter and your DH must be home-run hitter.
Billy Butler needs to hit home runs like Buddha needs pleasures of the flesh. Billy Butler needs to hit home runs like he needs your approval. Just look at bearded Billy Butler not give a fuck.
Billy Butler makes a living as one of the best DHs in the league by hitting doubles, lots and lots of doubles. He only has five seasons (though many steaks) under his belt, but in three of those (his only three full seasons), he has hit at least 40 doubles—finishing second in the league in 2009 with 51, tied for fifth in 2010 with 45 and tied for eighth in 2011 with 44.
What’s amazing, though, is how often he hits doubles compared to other kinds of hits. It is not uncommon for a hitter with power to belt 40 doubles with about as many home runs; it is not uncommon for a speedy hitter with contact to leg out a lot of doubles and triples. But Billy Butler cannot be categorized as either of those player-types. He owns only three triples, and has hit more than twice as many doubles as home runs in his career (191 to 79). Doubles account for about one-fourth of his total career hits, and he hits one in every 13.8 at-bats, on average.
The baseball scholar may need to pick up his jaw at this point, for, as surely as we will all perish alone and incomplete, it has dropped. Do it quick before a fly gets in your mouth.
Billy Butler’s doubles rate is certainly great, but the question that festered in my mind was, Is it historically great? Another question, which didn’t really fester as much as it just chilled and sipped on a gin and tonic, was, Could Billy Butler be the most pure doubles hitter of all time? By pure I mean prolific in doubles with comparatively low amounts of triples and home runs.
I consulted the Play Index tool at baseball-reference.com, because it is glorious and I paid $36 to use it for a year, to search for players with similar career statistics. I limited the results to the years 1918-2012 C.E., because the years before that are known as the Dead Ball Era and home run numbers would be suppressed accordingly. Then I narrowed the list to players with at least 2500 career plate appearances, and who, on average, hit at least one double every 15 at-bats.
Those parameters returned about 68 players, but once I exported the data to Excel, I filtered out the home-run hitters like Ted Williams and Albert Pujols by deleting every player who didn’t hit at least two doubles for every home run. I then removed players who didn’t hit at least 10 doubles per triple, to get rid of the speedsters. At that point I was left with only eight players.
I gradiented the last four columns mostly for shits, giggles and shiggles. All of these players have excellent stats, and any red is only relative to the other players on this list. What’s interesting is that all of these players are either active or played recently in terms of baseball history; John Valentin played the earliest, starting in 1992. (Maybe this has something to do with the Steroid Era, or new, spacious ballparks. I’m not smart enough nor have I done enough research to know.)
Anyway, I then decided to compare those eight players in frequency of doubles. The table should be easy enough to understand, and everyone knows purple is good, so I will just show it already.
Billy Butler’s belly helped him win the doubles-per-triple category in a landslide, which is, incidentally, what the people of Kansas City call it when he slides into second base (BUH DUM KISH!). Lyle Overbay is the most formidable doubles-hitting challenger to Billy Butler in this bunch; only he and Valentin reached second more than a quarter of the times they got a hit. I think it’s safe to say from this data and observation that Billy Butler, in his rotund glory, is one of the most pure doubles hitters in the history of baseball.
Enjoy him as I do.