The moment I began to set aside notions that the Oakland Athletics were correct that this would be Billy Butler's bounce back year came June 14, when Nico wrote of the struggling Country Breakfast, "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."
The moment I began to wonder if perhaps I should re-gather those notions but apply them to next year came August 18 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as I watched him get through several productive plate appearances: walking despite the situation begging for a double play, hitting the ball to the right side to advance the tying run to third base with one out, and finally going the other way to win the game in extra innings.
I chalked up those thoughts of revivification, however, to the simple excitement of a single game. But I kept my eyes open.
And so now, with this recent run of excellent hitting from Billy Butler, let me take stock about what the Oakland Athletics have in him. It's still not great, but it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Butler owns a .251/.324/.378 batting line with 25 doubles, a triple(!) and 11 home runs, good for a 96 wRC+. With weeks to go in the 2015 campaign, Butler is more or less even with his 2014 with the Royals (a 97 wRC+).
The trouble, of course, is that the only thing he is supposed to do is hit and hit for power. Neither running nor defense are in the job description of the everyday designated hitter. Still, he's not hitting like Kendrys Morales was in 2014.
I suppose Butler's value depends on one's perspective. I would rather have Kendrys Morales' production (.291/.355/.470, 126 wRC+) this year, but that's a 20/20 hindsight proposition. Morales was older and had hit worse than Butler in 2014 (.218/.274/.338, 72 wRC+).
So instead let's compare Billy Butler to 2014's designated hitter, AlJohndameniscondon erto Calljasdunespispmosspo:
2014's A's designated hitter hit .215/.294/.343, which meant the A's basically had, well, the 2014 version of Kendrys Morales at the designated hitter position. Read Billy Butler's 96 wRC+ then, as a 30 percent or so improvement over the extremely low bar the A's wanted to clear in hiring a dedicated designated hitter.
I realize this is tantamount to saying, "Well at least Billy Butler is better than Alberto Callaspo." But poor performance out of the designated hitter position is not a new phenomenon for the A's. Oakland's DH has returned a better than 100 sOPS+ (the major league average designated hitter) just twice since Frank Thomas' Hall of Fame saving 2006. It's just unusual for the poor performance to be concentrated in one A's hitter. Billy Butler is the first A's player to reach 500 plate appearances as the designated hitter since Thomas' 2006:
But cast Butler aside, and I wonder what is the alternative for 2016? A return to the above mish-mash of yesteryear, with all the pitfalls of the designated hitter penalty? More money spent on a designated hitter that has overcome that problem, such as John Jaso? The value in dropping Butler from the squad is the promise that the alternative will be better than what Butler can do in 2016 and 2017, and the opportunities lost in not spending the resources spent in replacing Butler on other areas, such as on a starting pitcher or an outfielder. I'm not saying that's the wrong move, just that there is an opportunity cost to consider here.
So I wonder if there is hope yet for Billy Butler to actually have the bounce back to the career year he enjoyed in 2012, or the perfectly fine year he had in 2013. If money were no object, I'd say let another team have him and try someone else next year. But payroll being what it is, and the money already having been spent, I'm inclined to see what Billy Butler can do next year.