On Sunday, I proposed that the four games the A's were to play against left-handers Matt Moore, Derek Holland, Cole Hamels, and Martin Perez were Billy Butler's big test to show that he had some minimal value to this team. With those four games done, and considering the alternatives, Butler passed.
Billy Butler went 3-for-8 with a walk, an RBI, and a double play against the four left-handed opposing starters in the last four games. The performance raises his batting line against left-handers to .303/.324/.424 in 34 plate appearances, a 107 wRC+ that ranks fourth best on the team (min. 10 PA).
Butler also showed that his continued practice at first base means he's not a defensive zero, and he'll be playing a lot more first base with Mark Canha out for the year. Butler made a very good scoop to save two runs on Sean Manaea's poor throw in the first game of the Texas series:
Butler also made several other good picks on hard hit balls. While his lack of speed makes him an unideal first baseman for the Coliseum's vast foul ball territory, he does have positive qualities to offer at the position.
This performance is not, by itself, something that will keep Butler on the roster through the end of his contract in 2017, nor will it be one that keeps him around after this year's trade deadline. The main reason Billy Butler gets a pass for now is that the internal alternatives are injured or need more playing time than is available on the major league roster.
When Jed Lowrie and Josh Phegley return from the disabled list, the A's will likely send down Max Muncy and Matt McBride. The left-handed batting Muncy already doesn't have playing time opportunities right now, with Danny Valencia ensconced at third base, Yonder Alonso at first, and a healthy Coco Crisp and Khris Davis taking up left field. The right-handed batting McBride has been a serviceable third catcher and can play first base and the outfield, but the journeyman who turns 31 on Monday won't play enough to actually push Butler out of the platoon first base job.
Renato Nunez is a right-handed batter and is batting .279/.333/.529 in 150 plate appearances with Nashville. That batting line is good for Nunez's first month in Triple-A, but it still has room to improve. Nunez's 129 wRC+ is only behind Max Muncy on the Nashville Sounds, but it is only good for 52nd of 203 qualified Triple-A batters. The 22-year-old Nunez is still developing, and there just isn't that much playing time available for him at the major leagues right now.
So Butler seems pretty safe as the platoon first baseman until the trade deadline. What could push Butler out around the All-Star Break is if the A's are still in postseason contention and if his performance against left-handers declines such that the A's seek an upgrade in trade.
Perhaps things would be different if Mark Canha was healthy or if Tyler Ladendorf was hitting the tar out of the ball. For now, Butler is here to stay. If he just faces left-handers, that's fine.