The A’s have speed. They have some consistency. They just don’t have speed in their most consistent hitter. To this point, the league’s most consistent hitter.
Billy Butler signed a three-year, $30 million deal this offseason, and has hit safely in all seven games. But in some instances, Butler was too slow to round the bases and score.
In Sunday’s homestand finale versus Seattle, Butler got aboard. He then advanced to second. A hard hit ball made its way to left field, and nearly anyone in baseball would have been able to get home from second on it.
That doesn’t mean manager Bob Melvin considered sending in a pinch runner for Butler. The consistency at the plate is too valuable, especially for a team with as many young pieces as the A’s.
Melvin said there’s only one situation that he’d consider pinch-running for Butler Sunday:
“If a guy came up in the last inning, and there was a tying or go ahead run, yeah. But I’m not going to do it in the middle innings.”
With the bases loaded, Josh Reddick grounded towards first base, the ball fielded halfway between first and the pitchers mound. Butler was thrown out at home.
With anyone else on the A’s roster, multiple runs would have scored that inning.
Butler’s next time up, he smacked one to deep center, and this time, got to second without any help. First baseman Ike Davis duplicated Butler’s hit, and thanks to a bobbled glove-to-hand exchange by center fielder Austin Jackson, Butler was able to score without a throw.
He’s baseball’s most consistent hitter, and went 3-for-4 in a series finale against a division rival. It might even be fair say that without Butler, the A’s wouldn’t have stood a chance in closing the lead and bringing the game into extra innings.
What is it that has helped the former Royals first baseman to 11 hits in seven games, and at least one hit in each game played this season?
Rings, A’s outfielder Craig Gentry joked. Butler, though, had a simpler explanation:
“It’s just trying to be consistent everyday. The hits come, the hits will go. I think that throughout the whole season, it’s the approach that carries you through. You’re going to have days where you hit the ball hard and you don’t get any hits from it. You just have to stay the course and trust in what you’re trying to do up there.”
Butler has been the epitome of consistency since coming to the bigs. He’s played 158 games or more since 2009, and played every game of the 2013 season.
He’s also never held a batting average below .270 since 2009, and has batted above .300 in half of those seasons.
It’s no wonder Butler was Oakland general manager Billy Beane‘s top target during the offseason, something Beane made sure Butler knew.
And something that lured Butler to Oakland. Butler said:
“Billy Beane was aggressive. He was very adamant about saying I was his number one target.”
Beane went after the first baseman turned designated hitter aggressively because he felt that once a few guys went off the market, Butler would jump up the priority list for other teams.
Butler’s speed, though, may become an issue for the club at some point. If the A’s in-house metrics come back saying that they’d improve with a pinch runner during the second half of the ballgame, things could change quickly.
Butler’s full-throttle sprint is about as fast as outfielder Sam Fuld‘s jog, maybe slower. And the team has forgone a few runs already as a result.
It’s plausible that Butler gets a little faster as the season progresses, though how much faster is relevant. And it doesn’t seem like he can add enough speed to change the outcomes of certain situations.
For now, though, Butler will not be taken out of games. Not unless it hinges on a single baserunner.