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So what about Billy Butler?

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Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When the news coming out of 7000 Coliseum Way is all waiver claims this and minor leagues signings that, staff departure these and staff promotion those, the Hot Stove turns into a bit of a lukewarm teapot. But fear not Athletics Nation, we're happy to talk about the slightest of rumors and innuendo just to get us all in a room to talk about baseball.

Trade rumors from non-mainstream figures citing "sources" have been all the rage ever since MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo broke the Doug Fister trade as a high school senior during the December 2013 Winter Meetings. If they're going to stake their reputation on this, well best of luck to them.

So okay, let's talk about Billy Butler.

Cost

Butler became a free agent when the Kansas City Royals declined their $12.5 million club option, paying a $1 million buyout instead. Shaun Newkirk of Royals Review offered a guess after noting that Butler had the worst walk year performance of any designated hitter free agent of the last three years:

As for the authors guess, and it truly is a guess, for Butler's 2015 contract, I would see something in the $7-10M range on a one year deal with a mutual option or perhaps as the colloquial term goes, a "pillow contract." There's likely a team out their [sic] willing to sign Butler to a 2-3 year deal perhaps at 2/$16M or 3/$24M. Such a team would be betting on Butler returning to his '12/13 form, an entirely imaginable scenario (more so the 2013 Butler than 2012).

Butler had been rumored to have turned down a three-year, $30 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles during last week's General Manager Meetings in Phoenix, but that rumor was dispelled by reporting from MASN's Roch Kubatko. ("Showalter's award, negotiations, and more")

Performance

Butler's 2014 performance was an alarming drop-off from his 2012 All-Star campaign and even the 2013 where he still showed some semblance of plate discipline. According to Baseball Info Solutions data at Fangraphs, he swung at a career-high 34.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone in 2014, compared to the MLB average of 31.3%, which ranked him 41st among the 146 qualified batters in baseball.

The number of first-pitch strikes thrown to him was also up remarkably, at 62.4%, compared to the previous high of 58.6% in 2008, and above the 2014 league average of 60.6%.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS+ GDP bWAR
2007 21 92 360 329 38 96 23 2 8 52 27 55 .292 .347 .447 108 8 0.7
2008 22 124 478 443 44 122 22 0 11 55 33 57 .275 .324 .400 93 23 -0.4
2009 23 159 672 608 78 183 51 1 21 93 58 103 .301 .362 .492 125 20 2.3
2010 24 158 678 595 77 189 45 0 15 78 69 78 .318 .388 .469 134 32 3.2
2011 25 159 673 597 74 174 44 0 19 95 66 95 .291 .361 .461 125 16 2.2
2012 26 161 679 614 72 192 32 1 29 107 54 111 .313 .373 .510 138 20 3.1
2013 27 162 668 582 62 168 27 0 15 82 79 102 .289 .374 .412 116 28 2.2
2014 28 151 603 549 57 149 32 0 9 66 41 96 .271 .323 .379 95 21 -0.3

Fit

Billy Butler could fit into the Oakland scheme, as an everyday designated hitter or occasional first baseman, but I think it would mean the idea of Derek Norris as someone that will be batting against right-handed pitching will be over. Here are a few possible configurations against right-handed pitching, assuming John Jaso becomes a minimally competent first baseman:

Butler the DH Butler the 1B
C John Jaso/Stephen Vogt Stephen Vogt
1B Stephen Vogt/John Jaso Billy Butler
2B Mystery IF Mystery IF
SS Mystery IF Mystery IF
3B Josh Donaldson Josh Donaldson
LF Brandon Moss Brandon Moss
CF Sam Fuld/Coco Crisp Sam Fuld/Coco Crisp
RF Josh Reddick Josh Reddick
DH Billy Butler John Jaso

In either lineup, for Norris to play in the game, Stephen Vogt would not be playing in the game. It would be criminal for the A's to play a game against a right-handed pitcher with John Jaso and his career .272/.368/.424 line against right-handed pitching sitting on the bench. Norris has only recently been hitting well against right-handed pitching at the MLB-level, with a .244/.340/.359 performance over 234 plate appearances, good for a 106 wRC+, but even that was behind Vogt at 119 and Jaso at 128, but ahead of Butler at 84.

If Butler does not regain his stroke against right-handed pitching, however, Derek Norris might be in the conversation to see if he can regain what he had in the first half of 2014.

Billy Butler, compared to A's hitters wRC+ vs. RHP, career unless noted
Name G PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ vs. RHP
2014 wRC+
vs. RHP
John Jaso 465 1434 .272 .368 .424 127 128
Brandon Moss 578 1739 .248 .327 .473 118 118
Josh Donaldson 381 1197 .259 .336 .408 112 110
Billy Butler 1093 3518 .288 .347 .424 108 84
Josh Reddick 465 1366 .251 .310 .443 105 140
Coco Crisp 1261 4118 .274 .337 .408 101 112
Kyle Blanks 220 567 .229 .307 .405 101 141
Stephen Vogt 142 400 .262 .307 .397 98 119
Sam Fuld 333 864 .230 .312 .329 82 89
Derek Norris 233 543 .208 .305 .314 79 106
Andrew Brown 96 202 .212 .265 .402 77 85
Craig Gentry 235 501 .264 .327 .317 77 62
Nick Punto 920 2543 .238 .322 .320 76 70
Eric Sogard 275 774 .240 .296 .330 76 71
Andy Parrino 85 177 .176 .278 .255 46 42
Drew Pomeranz 21 27 .182 .217 .364 43 ---
Nate Freiman 45 68 .177 .250 .194 29 54
Sean Doolittle 1 1 .000 .000 .000 -100 -100

Against left-handed pitching, however, Billy Butler is a big asset for a team that in 2014 had at any one time only five batters that finished with a wRC+ vs. LHP of over 100, and two of them were Kyle Blanks and Nate Freiman. Butler still performed well against left-handed pitching in 2014, with a wRC+ of 137, and a career wRC+ of 142 against southpaws.

Billy Butler, compared to A's hitters wRC+ vs. LHP, career unless noted
Name G PA AVG OBP SLG
wRC+
vs. LHP
2014
wRC+
vs. LHP
Josh Donaldson 208 494 .289 .372 .581 165 183
Derek Norris 187 439 .292 .374 .486 143 148
Billy Butler 538 1293 .314 .393 .519 142 137
Nate Freiman 98 233 .279 .326 .470 122 116
Kyle Blanks 122 295 .244 .342 .409 115 155
Craig Gentry 237 520 .282 .364 .376 105 90
Brandon Moss 230 391 .248 .322 .401 101 133
Coco Crisp 781 1872 .261 .316 .403 93 82
Josh Reddick 274 547 .229 .290 .400 91 55
Sam Fuld 161 346 .251 .326 .347 90 95
Andrew Brown 75 160 .229 .300 .375 85 36
Nick Punto 543 1186 .260 .326 .328 79 77
Stephen Vogt 40 62 .203 .242 .390 76 83
Eric Sogard 103 156 .207 .296 .252 61 44
John Jaso 147 207 .169 .289 .221 53 41
Andy Parrino 52 103 .184 .284 .241 53 38

For the three outfield spots, first base, and designated hitter, the A's without Billy Butler have to start Kyle Blanks, Brandon Moss, and three players out of Sam Fuld, Coco Crisp, Craig Gentry, and Sam Fuld, of which only Gentry has a career wRC+ eclipsing 100 against left-handers. Butler makes a decision to rest the injury-prone Coco Crisp far easier.

w/o Butler w/Butler
C Derek Norris Derek Norris
1B Kyle Blanks/Brandon Moss Kyle Blanks/Brandon Moss
2B Mystery IF Mystery IF
SS Tyler Ladendorf Tyler Ladendorf
3B Josh Donaldson Josh Donaldson
LF Brandon Moss/Sam Fuld Brandon Moss/Sam Fuld
CF Craig Gentry/Coco Crisp/Sam Fuld Craig Gentry/Coco Crisp/Sam Fuld
RF Sam Fuld/Josh Reddick Sam Fuld/Josh Reddick
DH Crisp/Fuld/Reddick/Gentry/Blanks/Moss Billy Butler

The case for a regular DH

There's something to be said for having a regular DH. For the last few years, Bob Melvin has used the designated hitter position as the "half-day off" position, with no particular player claiming the role. When nobody needed a rest, the DH position was used for the player the A's least wanted to see in the field. Hence, Alberto Callaspo started 34 games at DH, primarily against left-handed pitching, and John Jaso started 32 games at DH against right-handed pitching.

In The Book, Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin describe a "designated hitter penalty" that some players have where players do not hit as well as they would if they were playing in the field. They are careful to note that the effect "does vary significantly from player to player." It certainly looked like John Jaso had a severe DH penalty in 2014, going .208/.293/.296 as a DH compared to .2998/.362/.488 as a catcher. Maybe Butler, who played a career-high 37 games in the field last season, is one of those players that just knows how to DH.

Sure the A's value defensive versatility, but the A's really don't have that many good bats against left-handed pitching. If anything, keeping the good defenders on the bench instead of trapped by the DH rule only adds to the options Bob Melvin has for setting the defensive lineup. It would be nice to take advantage of playing in the American League, for once.

Can it work for the 25-man roster? The problem of course is that the A's are going to be make some tough decisions if they sign Billy Butler. Assuming 13 position player spots, there would be

  1. John Jaso
  2. Derek Norris
  3. Stephen Vogt
  4. Kyle Blanks/Nate Freiman
  5. Josh Donaldson
  6. Tyler Ladendorf/mystery infielder
  7. Brandon Moss
  8. Andy Parrino/mystery infielder
  9. Nick Punto
  10. Eric Sogard/mystery infielder
  11. Coco Crisp
  12. Sam Fuld
  13. Craig Gentry
  14. Josh Reddick

I could see getting rid of one of Andy Parrino (waived), Eric Sogard (optioned), or Tyler Ladendorf (optioned), but not the two needed to fit Billy Butler onto the 25-man roster. A Billy Butler signing signals further moves on the horizon to clear roster space before Opening Day. You could omit Kyle Blanks/Nate Freiman, but that's a bat that is sorely needed against left-handed pitching.

Conclusion

I would not have a problem with signing Billy Butler if it meant the A's could still upgrade the middle infield and add depth to the starting rotation after the departures of Jon Lester and Jason Hammel. Such a move means Derek Norris probably does not play often against right-handed pitchers or will split time as the designated hitter with Billy Butler, depending on whether Butler returns to better form. The lineup versus left-handed pitching would be vastly improved.

If the payroll works for other priorities, I think Billy Butler can do a lot for the A's in 2015. It's just a question of who falls off the roster as a result.

Statistics from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.