One of the early transactions to break in the offseason has Billy Butler heading to Oakland on a 3-year deal paying him $30 million. The big reason we were surprised by this addition is tied to Butler’s minimal defensive prowess as Billy Beane primarily drives value through his players’ positional flexibility. Perhaps more interestingly, Beane has feathered his lineup with fly ball hitters in the past, so it prompts the question of where Billy Butler and his ground ball heavy diet (pun intended) fits.
However, this article is not a speculation on the Oakland A’s and their presumably changing philosophy. I am proposing a different transaction, a trade in fact, but for the Kansas City Royals. Surely the Royals would not be upset in recreating the roster that was responsible for them winning the pennant. If I were the GM, I would not have spent $30 million on Billy Butler. On the other hand, I can potentially make a trade with the Boston Red Sox, for, who we will call for now, Billy Butler Light.
Let me make it clear that this hitter has not been christened “light” due to a diminished level of performance at the plate. He is light because, trivially, he is weighs 30 pounds less, yet also because he will cost and be valued less by Boston. The Red Sox have a crowded outfield – this is clear. With Hanley Ramirez seemingly moving to left field, there are even fewer spots for far too many players. Fortunately for them, Allen Craig has limited defensive value, no speed, mediocre power, and a ground ball heavy profile of his own. He matches up perfectly to replace Billy Butler.
Here is how their career numbers line up:
As far as end results go, the pair has produced very similar lines, despite Butler being a couple years younger (which is weird in itself). We know Allen Craig is coming off a terrible year, and by terrible I mean he had a .594 OPS and a worse fWAR than Charlie Culberson and Skip Schumaker. For the Royals, however, perhaps this makes Craig even more attainable and could be had at a discount. He is owed $5.5 million, $9 million and $11 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
While both players currently have representable power, this has been diminished over the last few years. In fact, neither Butler nor Craig hit 10 home runs last year. The graph below shows their decline in ISO from 2012:
With the power declining materially, partially as a result of the amount of fly balls they are hitting, both players have loved to hit the ball into the ground. We know of Butler’s ground ball tendencies, but Craig’s batted ball profile has become similarly ground ball heavy. Among qualified batters, Craig ranked 11th in GB% in 2014, and Butler also cracked the top 25, although he was even 12th in 2013. Craig is following Butler’s ground and pound mentality, but they collectively represent a unique type of ground ball hitter.
The top 10 ground ball hitters in 2014 include: Ben Revere, Nori Aoki, Derek Jeter, Christian Yelich, Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, Elvis Andrus, DJ LeMahieu, followed by Allen Craig. Can you notice the trend? The forementioned are mostly slap hitters who make a living on beating out balls chopped to the hole. Almost every single one is a 20+ stolen base guy. Craig and Butler are still ground mashers, but of the “sluggish” variation.
We are not even done yet. How does their historical performance translate to 2015 and beyond? The comparison of their respective Steamer projections is indicated in the table below. Craig is in line for miniscule edge in power, while Butler is forecasted for a tiny advantage in OBP.
When you factor in defense and both of their meagre base running (both cost their teams -5 runs on the bases in 2014) they each project to be roughly the same average player. In Butler’s case, he has a complete lack of defensive value and is hit with the DH penalty. For Craig, his defensive value is mostly negative. His slow-footedness should, at the most, be relegated to first base duties, although that role is currently filled by Mike Napoli. Hysterically, the FANS scouting report actually bequeathed him a 27 (out of 100) overall defensive rating for 2014 and his career rating in that department is 37.
We know the Red Sox are light in arms, thus a Craig for pitcher trade is rational. Without being too well versed of the Royals system, I would think a B-level pitcher or a Jeremy Guthrie type would pull Craig to Kauffman Stadium. When the Royals were unable to re-sign Billy Butler, he took off to the west coast. The Royals should realize that Butler’s slimmer twin is waiting 1000 miles east.Next post: Interview: Twins Pitching Prospect Alex Meyer
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