There was a time when Billy Butler was as popular in Kansas City as Gates Bar B.Q.
Remember last year? The affable Butler was known as “Country Breakfast,” and when he’d homer it would be a “Billy Bomb.” There was even “Billy Butler’s Barbecue Sauce.” He appeared on a lot of commercials during Royals’ games and was high profile.
But this year, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone refer to Butler as “Country Breakfast” unless it’s been to point out that maybe he’s had some extra helpings that have taken away some of his athleticism.
There’s been a grand total of one “Billy Bomb” as the Royals are at the quarter-pole of the season. His jars of sauce have disappeared from the bench. The fun-loving, engaging Butler appears almost daily with a scowl or a look of bewilderment. He even got into it with first base coach Rusty Kuntz when he was nearly picked off at Seattle following a single. He rounded the bag, casually walked back to first and was lucky to beat the tag, which would have ended the game. Butler, to his credit, took blame for his near-gaffe.
Butler should be at the pinnacle of his career. He’s arguably the Royals’ most recognizable player who has seen and been a part of a lot of bad baseball in Kansas City. He’s at the age where he should be posting his best numbers, which would normally be All-Star worthy.
But something has gone terribly wrong. Billy Butler, who was put on this earth by God to hit baseballs all over the lot, has stopped hitting. Even on bad days he used to be good for at least a double. The hitting machine has developed a glitch.
In 40 games, Butler has exactly six doubles and one homer. That’s a total of seven extra-base hits from the No. 3 or 4 spot in the order. Seven extra-base hits used to be one week’s worth for Butler, whose strength was hitting to all fields.
He is hitting .232. He’s accustomed to being in the .280-to-.300 range with a spate of doubles. While he’s never been a big homer guy, he has popped 29 in a season. He can’t blame it this year on the park, because nearly all of his outs are weak grounders to third base and shortstop. It’s almost unfathomable to watch one of the best hitters in the game look so inept. He’s even struck out an alarming 31 times, highest on the team, and has killed several rallies by rolling into ego-sapping double plays.
The Royals have no choice but to ride Butler out. His track record indicates he’s going to hit. He’s had slumps before, but never one so pronounced. If not for the miserable and practically historically bad season being turned in by Mike Moustakas, he’d be last among Royals regulars in on-base percentage. Butler is at .292 and has a .296 slugging percentage, sickly numbers that probably want to make him throw up.
Butler’s woes also have been contagious. He’s been so bad that it’s kept the heat off Alex Gordon, another franchise cornerstone who in reality hasn’t been that much better. His saving grace is that he’s at least hit a lot of doubles.
The Royals are 20-20 at the one-fourth mark of the season, which is commendable considering how atrocious the offense has been. They have wasted countless quality pitching performances, including a dandy Thursday by Yordano Ventura. The bullpen appears to have righted itself after clunking it up the first month and now the team seems to be in every game, thanks to the pitching.
There was talk of moving Butler last winter since his value was never higher. You have to wonder if the Royals have hung on him too long. Hopefully, his bat will warm up along with the weather. If he does, the team will jump on his back for the ride.