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Joey Butler and Offensive Upside

Joey Butler, you yawned when the Indians signed him, and outside of his name being mentioned as a potential backup outfielder he probably exists outside your radar. This is the life of Joey Butler, 29 year old outfielder. I am here to argue that he is something more, a blossoming big league bat of some use to the Indians in 2016.

88 Games, 276 PA, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 109 wRC+

Nothing jumps off the page especially when you consider his age but  he is productive nonetheless. With this Indians offense, any time you see a wRC+ above 100(league average) you have to take a more extensive look. Butler is a mediocre defender and whether he is closer to average or liability, offense is his carrying tool.

Time to look a little deeper. First the BABIP(batting average on balls in play) .377. That likely will not be repeated but projection systems love him for a BABIP in the .330-.340 range, why? Contact quality. Butler makes a lot of quality contact.

Of players with a minimum of 120 at bats in 2015, Butler was 90th out of 302 in terms of average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls at 93.54 MPH.  Here are the hitters ranked 91-100: Carlos Santana, C.J. Cron, Albert Pujols, Russell Martin, Yasiel Puig, Curtis Granderson, Justin Upton, Colby Rasmus, Trevor Plouffe, and Mark Canha.

 There are some high quality hitters with similar exit velocity on line drives and fly balls, and the law with exit velocity on these ball in play types is the higher the better. Thus, while we can expect some BABIP decline, Butler hits the ball with authority which bodes well for high BABIPs and production in general.

What is more interesting is that Butler uses the whole field, and is not pull dominant, in fact if there is a major flaw it is that he does not utilize the pull field enough as a right handed hitter.
This sort of opposite field power is actually pretty rare, and it is remarkable that all but one of his home runs was hit to center or the opposite way. Ultimately, it makes you wonder if he can tap into a little pull field power, how productive he could become.

Not surprisingly, Butler has really only tapped into his power on pitches on the middle to outer half of the plate.
If Butler can begin to pull pitches on the inside of the plate with authority, we could see a major increase in offensive production as he already drives pitches on the outer half which is remarkable.

The contact quality is clearly there for Butler but the next issue is whether his plate discipline will allow his contact quality to play up.

In the minor leagues, Butler posted multiple full season walk rates of 13% or higher and strike out rates from 21%-23%. In his first substantive big league season, 2015, Butler posted a walk rate of 5.8% and a strikeout rate of 29.7%. Both of these seem to be the bottom bound of what we can expect from Butler's plate discipline moving forward. 

Projection systems place Butler's walk rates above 8%, a significant step forward over 2015, as well as a 2-3% decline in strikeout rate. The projections are reasonable based upon the aforementioned minor league plate discipline profile.

Indeed, John Sickels wrote positively about Butler's ability to adjust:
It is possible he can make some counter-adjustments once the pitchers do. His walk rates showed steady improvement through his minor league career along with a slight decline in strikeouts, a sign of a hitter adapting to his competition.
Butler has shown above average contact quality, projects for improving plate discipline, is there any other potential value? Yes. His splits are neutral. 101 wRC+ against left handed pitching and 115 against right handed pitching. The minor league splits are similar though they suggest he is better against left handed pitching then we have seen so far due to the limited sample against LHP.

As Jeff Nomina pointed out, the Indians appear to struggle against right handed pitching, Butler does not crush right handed pitching but he handles it capably which adds depth to the lineup.

Butler can play decent enough defense to provide offensive value in the early going, and offers a nice plug and play with some upside still left.

Of one thing I am certain. Butler hits the ball hard frequently, and it is worth the Indians time to see how much upside that offers.

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