Billy Butler is not in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game, having started all three games against the Chicago White Sox left-handers. This sure seems like a strict platoon, although manager Bob Melvin insisted on Saturday that Butler will get his turns against right-handed pitching according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.
But a closer look reveals that while Butler's role against right-handed pitching will most certainly be reduced, he's not going to be shut out of starting against them altogether.
Is it the matchups?
The A's have passed on having Billy Butler face these starters, so far:
|Billy Butler, career statistics vs. recent pitchers|
|Thu vs CHW||Mat Latos||1||.000||.000||.000||.000||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Fri at SEA||Taijuan Walker||7||.286||.286||.286||.571||7||2||0||0||0||2||0||1|
|Sat at SEA||Nate Karns||3||.333||.333||.333||.667||3||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sun at SEA||Felix Hernandez||41||.263||.317||.395||.712||38||10||2||0||1||5||3||11|
He hasn't had much experience against the first three of these pitchers, and while he's hit well against Hernandez (considering it's Felix Hernandez), three days off puts him in a tough position to jump back into hitting against the Seattle ace.
Who did the A's put in the lineup instead?
On Thursday, Jed Lowrie was the DH to let Chris Coghlan play second base and make his first start while giving Jed Lowrie his first day off from the field. Going into that game, Lowrie was 5-for-8 with two home runs against Mat Latos, though he hadn't faced him since 2013.
Friday, Josh Reddick was the DH because he had a minor back issue, which put Coghlan in right field and Lowrie at second base. Going into Friday's game, Reddick was 2-for-6 with a home run and a walk against Walker, so the back injury may actually have forced Butler out of the lineup in order to get Reddick into it, given his health.
Saturday, Khris Davis was the DH, and I can see how the A's would want to emphasize having a left fielder with a much better arm if the righties that faced left-hander Rich Hill teed off against the command problems Hill had on Opening Night and in his spring performances. Thus, Coghlan was in left field.
Sunday, Stephen Vogt is the DH after he's caught for three straight games, and it's a day game after a night game. Josh Phegley is catching. Vogt is 11-for-23 against Felix Hernandez in his career, so you really can't leave Vogt's bat out of the lineup.
Four games, and four decisions made that seem peculiar to the circumstances of that day. Lowrie was good against Latos, Reddick good against Walker but his back forced him to DH, Davis the DH to emphasize left field defense with Oakland starting the perceived-to-be-wild lefty, and Vogt good against Hernandez but avoiding having him catch in a day game after a night game.
Will Billy Butler get into games soon? Probably.
|Billy Butler, career statistics for next two series' probable starters|
|Mon vs LAA||RHP||Nick Tropeano||6||6||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.167||.167||.167||.333|
|Tues vs LAA||LHP||Hector Santiago||22||19||5||1||0||1||1||3||3||.263||.364||.474||.837|
|Wed vs LAA||RHP||Matt Shoemaker||19||16||5||1||0||0||2||2||1||.313||.368||.375||.743|
|Fri vs KCR||RHP||Edinson Volquez||3||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000||.000||.000||.000|
|Sat vs KCR||RHP||Chris Young||6||6||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.167||.167||.167||.333|
|Sun vs KCR||RHP||Kris Medlen||6||6||1||0||0||0||1||0||0||.167||.167||.167||.333|
Monday's starter, Nick Tropeano, has only made 11 career starts split between the last two seasons, so there aren't any A's with experience against Tropeano. Butler is tied with Josh Reddick for most plate appearances on the team against Tropeano. This could be an opportunity to give Jed Lowrie a full day off after he's started all of Oakland's first six games, once as the DH. Chris Coghlan would be the second baseman and Butler the DH.
Tuesday is against the lefty Santiago, so he'll start as a matter of course. Butler has hit well against Wednesday's starter, Matt Shoemaker, too. Against the Royals, it's tough to say where Butler will fit into the lineup, so that could be another set of extended time off.
To Butler's credit, he's saying exactly what you want to hear from someone who has sat for four straight days:
Billy Butler has a great attitude about sitting vs. RHs, says he'll take advantage of opportunities when gets them and won't complain.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 10, 2016
And prior to Saturday's contest, the beat writers were already beating back the snark:
.@dsanchize I talked to the guy. in fairness to him, you can tell he wants to be in there. He's putting team first w/his comments.— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) April 9, 2016
When you look at each of these decisions, it's really come down to who needs rest and who has hit well against the opposing starter. Billy Butler is 3-for-10 with two doubles and one strikeout so far, and hopefully the reports on improved bat speed and a ramped up offseason conditioning routine are realities and not spring fantasies. Billy Butler's role will be reduced against right-handers, but a strict platoon this will not be.
Statistics from Baseball-Reference batter vs. pitcher matchup finder.