Saturday, January 11, 2014

Billy Butler's Iron Bat and Lead Feet

I'm not here to tell you that Billy Butler is slow. You know that already. You might have seen Joe Posnanski's post about him being the "slowest player in MLB". You might have listed all players on FanGraphs and reverse-sorted them by "Spd" just to see him at the top.[1] You know this already.

[1] As an aside, he's tied for this honor with Kendrys Morales, the player that, from many reports,  Dayton Moore is interested in replacing him with.

I'm here to try and precisely and accurately quantify the impact this has on his team's offensive production.  

First, I would like a sidebar to discuss Billy Butler's GIDP numbers. In the last three years, Butler has hit into 72 double plays. Although everyone knows how slow Butler is, Ned Yost continues to put him in a position to fail. Over that timespan, Butler has been faced with 400 double play opportunities. Gordon, on the other hand, has faced only 271. Gordon also strikes out more and hits more fly balls than Butler, helping to reduce the number of double plays he hits into. Neither of these aspects of double plays implies that Butler is hurting his team.[2]  These are the reasons why I advocate batting Butler either leadoff (no, seriously) or in the 6-spot.

[2] Look here to read about the counterintutive nature of double plays and how they correlate with overall team performance.

But make no mistake, even without Yost's help, Billy is hurting his team. As listed above, Butler's GIDP rate is 18%, significantly higher than the MLB average of 11%. Every GIDP costs the team about 0.6 runs[3]. His baserunning is also abysmal. Here's how his baserunning breaks down with respect to each type of situation:

[3] This is the number I get when running identical simulations with and without double plays. This number is significantly higher than what you get from run expectancy (RE) calculations, such as that in Tango et al's The Book, which uses the 24 base/out states to get a value of -0.35 runs per DP. Perhaps this is just a limitation of the RE method, but The Book also lists the cost of a caught-stealing as -0.47 runs (Table 7). A double play, practically by definition, must cost a team more than a caught stealing.

Fraction of the time a player takes the extra base. The MLB averages will vary a few percent year-to-year, and these numbers are 2013.

Essentially, he's 35% of the average baserunner.  Putting him anywhere in the 2-3-4 region of the lineup kills the team. To determine the impact this has on the team, I reran my lineup simulator, setting all baserunning parameters for Butler to be league average. The optimal lineups all put Butler in the 1-2-3 region of the lineup, and this lineup scores an extra 17.2 runs per season relative to the optimal lineups that take into account his true baserunning capabilities (but, it should be noted, assume he's not going to get any slower as he passes his age-28 season).

I love Country Breakfast. I love the barbeque sauce. I love that he's the best pure hitter on the team. I hate the Trolls who think he needs to "produce more runs". But -17.2 runs, it should be noted, is a reduction of two wins in the standings. I don't love that.

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