Everybody's favorite whipping boy these days, the main images of Billy Butler these days are of a guy rolling his eyes over a strike call, rolling over to hit a DP ball to 3B, ripping a liner right at an outfielder, or looking like a cartoon character frantically running place in an effort to get somewhere.
In the movies, a character can age in reverse or at 10x their chronological rate. In real life, at age 29 Butler is either aging too quickly or else he is, at the very least, causing A's fans to do so. He is batting .244/.298/.339 with 4 HRs and it is a well documented fact that leading geologists now measure continental movement in "butlers". Perhaps Billy's nickname should, in fact, be "Continental Breakfast".
Butler has seen his batting average and slugging percentage drop each of the last 3 seasons, and his OBP, once a robust .373-.374 (2012-13) has plummeted to .323 (2014) and now .298. If Butler were approaching his mid-30s the kind of dropoff he has experienced would make a lot more sense. Is this an example of a body type which, at age 29, believes it is 34? Bartolo Colon scoffs at your theory.
Whatever it is, the A's have to figure out which track record to trust: the one suggesting Butler can flat out hit, or the one suggesting he is in steady decline. Trouble is, Butler is under contract through 2017 and at the moment the A's have a slow DH slugging .339.
Certainly Butler has hit into some poor luck. Had his fair share of rockets to the outfield found the gaps he would likely be sitting on a slash line closer to, say, .260/.310/.370. Trouble is, that's still lackluster for a player who can neither field nor run. At all.
A look inside the numbers suggests that the current iteration of Butler may be the weak side of a platoon. Against LHPs he is actually batting a serviceable .226/.359/.377. However, against RHPs he is batting all of .249/.279/.328. At what point do the A's platoon their $10M man? At what point do they cut the cord and move on? Or is this the next 2.5 years of hoping there's an impact hitter in there somewhere?
And if he continues to decline, what will he decline to? His HRs have dropped, each year since 2012, from 29 to 15 to 9 to ... hey, great news, he's currently on pace for 10! While it's hard to imagine Butler getting slower, getting on base much less or slugging much less, who knows? His second-worst quality is that when he reaches base he clogs them something fierce. His worst quality is that he rarely gets on base.
Let's say Butler continues to hit LHPs ok and to hit RHPs badly, finds his right-center field singles and doubles stroke but not much true power, neutralizes his luck and hits around .260/.310/.370 going forward in 2015. Where do the A's go from here? It is, as they say, a slowly developing story.