How Did Billy Butler Take His Extra Bases?

Remember when Billy Butler stole a base against the Angels in the playoffs? Of course you do. It was beautiful and it was absurd, and it psychologically cemented the notion that there was nothing the Angels could do to slow the Royals down. Even Billy Butler was having his way, however he wanted to. It was like the Royals flying their flag over the Angels’ conquered castle. And it had to be Butler. It felt meaningful because that’s something Butler just doesn’t do. There are reasons he doesn’t run, so when he ran, and when he got away with it, the Royals felt invincible.

Here’s an image sequence that should remind you of how the moment felt:




The invincible Royals. They were the invincible Royals, against the American League. Butler stealing was a choreographed goal celebration.

Obviously, that was Butler’s only steal of 2014. Also, his only steal attempt. He didn’t try in 2013, either. Here’s the thing about stolen bases: they’re extra bases. Butler takes the bases he’s given, but he seldom takes more than that, and this past season, he took that to the extreme. I’m pulling some numbers, now, from Baseball-Reference. Last year, Butler was standing on first base for 31 singles. He was on first for seven doubles, and he was on second for ten singles. Combined, that’s 48 opportunities to take an extra base, beyond what’s granted. Butler actually took an extra base five times, for a rate of 10%.

His career rate is 20%. The league-average rate is about 40%. Last year, if you set a minimum of 25 advancing opportunities, Butler finished with the lowest rate in baseball, narrowly finishing lower than Ryan Howard and Kendrys Morales. Once, did Butler make it from first to third on a single. Twice as many times, he got thrown out trying. Butler was thrown out trying to advance on a hit as many times as Mike Trout and Brett Gardner. Insert other fun facts if you’d like. Did you know that Billy Butler is not fast? Read about it on FanGraphs!

It’s pretty obvious that Butler is not a gifted baserunner. He routinely ranks as one of the worse baserunners in the league, and he hasn’t even yet reached his 30s. It’s a small factor, and a real factor. Last year his running was as bad as Alex Gordon’s was good. I’m really just here because of those five extra bases taken. They make me wonder — if Butler pretty much never advanced more than he had to, what happened on the few occasions he didn’t stop moving? How did Billy Butler advance five extra bases on hits? Let’s watch the plays in question, together. And please understand that I’m going into this blind so if it isn’t actually interesting, welp. If it makes you feel better, that would mean I also wasted my own time. You wouldn’t be alone.



We’ve got Butler going first to third on a single! And while there were two outs, it wasn’t a full count, so Butler wasn’t already in motion. It’s interesting. The ball’s hit pretty hard, in front of the outfielder. At no point does the ball get bobbled. Nothing unusual happened here, except for the one unusual thing. Look at where Butler was when Nick Swisher had the ball fully under control:


As Swisher was throwing, Butler hadn’t even touched second. There was no play on Butler at third. This is where I’ll point out that Swisher’s Fan Scouting Report results just absolutely cratered. Indians fans killed him, almost as much as Nick Swisher killed the Indians. Even Billy Butler ran comfortably on Nick Swisher, for whatever reason, pulling off an easy first-to-third and quite enjoying it in the aftermath:


A routine extra advance on a single. It’s not supposed to be routine when it’s Billy Butler doing the moving.



Now we’re talking. How did Butler pretty easily score from first on an Alex Gordon double? The fly ball hung up forever. To be honest, Adam Jones probably should’ve caught it. Instead, he fumbled with it on the bounce, and continued forward with the ball into the wall. He was at just about literally the deepest part of the ballpark. So Jones was throwing from 400 feet away, with no momentum, and even Dioner Navarro could’ve scored from first on this, with two outs on the board. Dioner Navarro is super slow by the way. I don’t think there are any players who wouldn’t have scored from first. At least not living ones.



Here we go. Deep ballpark, big outfield. Butler scores with a weird slide. It seems like it was an aggressive wave-around. How aggressive? Consider Butler and the catcher’s relative positioning when the ball arrived near home:


With a good throw, Butler’s super out. With a decent throw, Butler’s out. With this throw, Butler still had to avoid a tag, and the catcher let the baseball roll away. Butler made it, but probably most of the time here, Butler doesn’t make it, and it’s another Billy Butler out on the bases. He scored because of an unusually off-target relay throw, and, say, remember Game 7 of the World Series? I’m sure Brandon Crawford would’ve made a better throw than this, probably.



With a big lead, there wasn’t much harm in seeing what Butler could do. And he was able to slide in safe, again in part because of an off-target relay throw home. The batted ball rolled toward one of the deeper parts of the park, and it was retrieved by David Murphy, who the fans have rated as having one of the worse throwing arms among big-league corner outfielders. So you can see how the elements combined for this. Featured: a pretty sweet Billy Butler slide. Also featured: Eric Hosmer looking a little surprised to see Butler coming up on his tail. It’s probably a surprising thing to observe.



Butler read this ball well off the bat. Or did he? It wasn’t that far away from being caught on a line, but it was high enough, and I think you give Butler the benefit of the doubt. So he got a good read, and he scored with ease. Yet, this wasn’t just an ordinary single with Butler on second base. It was hit toward the gap, and with a speedy hitter, you can almost see how maybe this could turn into a hustle double. Probably not, but there’s a chance, so this wasn’t just a single. It was maybe a single and a half, which made it simple for both runners to move up 180 feet. Credit to Butler, though, for his instincts.


What did we learn from this? I hope you weren’t expecting to learn very much. With all five advances, there were reasons behind them, but there are usually reasons behind advances, and Butler isn’t some complete baserunning idiot. He just isn’t quick. The five advances aren’t too remarkable, although one was almost an out. What’s more remarkable is that there weren’t more than five of them. That means Butler stopped on plays where advances might’ve otherwise been borderline routine. So we’ve circled back, to Butler being a baserunning negative. We were never going to deviate from that. There is no deviating from that.

It’s one of the reasons why the Oakland contract is so puzzling. The salary isn’t surprising, but the third guaranteed year is, and Oakland is a team that needs to be more efficient than most. There’s also the matter of Butler leading the majors in double plays over the past three years, which isn’t surprising given that he’s a groundballing slowpoke. Butler is bat-only to an extreme degree, and his bat hasn’t been special since 2012. It doesn’t seem like the $30 million was necessary, but, I’m just a guy writing too late at night.

To Butler’s credit, he advanced five times, while getting thrown out three times. Tommy La Stella advanced five times, and got thrown out five times. So there’s an arrow in Billy Butler’s quiver, the next time he finds himself in an argument with Tommy La Stella.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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9 years ago

Iz possible he WANTED to go, but when he posed to Royals’ 1B coach Rusty Kuntz sometimes how great the notion was, it got shot down. ‘I’m going this time, Rusty, seriously, you can’t stop me.’ ‘Billy Billy Billy Bu-roo – you know what Ned said: Defy his orders, he’ll feed your sorry ass to Slugerrr.’

After all, Yost had all those actually COMPETETENT base-path runners in the line-up; while risk spoiling all that just to render to the atmosphere more all-inclusive for Frybody Flapwaddles?

Perpetually Cynical Mets Fan
9 years ago
Reply to  Avattoir

This entire comment was just an excuse to say Rusty Kuntz’s name, wasn’t it?

9 years ago

Actually, no; but, intentionally or not, it appears to have turned into an illustration of the difference between writing and reading.