Billy Butler is a guy you’ve heard of. He’s recognizable for a being six feet tall and weighing 260 pounds. He has a rather awesome nickname, “Country Breakfast,” which reflects his shape. All of this has made him into what you might call a “name.”
When the New York Yankees acquired Butler, some ears certainly perked up. The Yankees needed some help against left-handed pitching and here was this relatively well-known gentleman who might be able to help. So they picked him up and it cost very little. No risk, and a potentially great reward.
The problem is that there’s also no good reason to believe Butler can help the Yankees win baseball games. His unorthodox body shape would make one inclined to trust in his ability to hit baseballs a long way, but he really can’t do that with any consistency. This is a snapshot of Butler’s last three seasons with the bat:
He’s not just bad (the worst qualified player over this period according to FanGraphs, in fact) he’s bad in the exact same damn way every year. His hitting is uninspired and the girth that made him famous makes him awful in every other aspect of the game.
Butler is a known quantity, but that shouldn’t be that valuable for a team with dozens of scouts and analytics experts who are supposed to be in the business of unearthing previously unknown talent. There aren’t a bunch of players ready to contribute at the major-league level just floating around in the ether, but there’s got to be something more appealing than a man named after a rural morning nosh.
Instead, the Yankees have made quite literally the least interesting move of our time. They have put less thought into a player acquisition than it takes most people to navigate a food court. The Bronx needed a guy, Butler is a guy, Butler was available, and the Yankees got Butler.
Now, at this moment it would be fair to say, “Hey, Butler wasn’t signed to be good, he was signed to hit lefties.” That’s a fine point and your ability and willingness to think critically is greatly appreciated. Here’s the issue: Butler probably can’t hit lefties any better than he hits righties right now.
Over the last two seasons, he’s hit .232/.331/.374 against southpaws. That’s not nearly good enough to be employed for the purpose of lefty bashing. He’s been better in the past, but he also used to be an above-average hitter overall so that isn’t immensely surprising.
Butler has earned himself some goodwill with a pinch-hit home run in his second game as a Yankee on Friday and perhaps he’ll have a productive few weeks in pinstripes. However, that will remain beside the point. Anyone can have a decent couple of weeks. Not you or I in all likelihood, but anyone who is a viable candidate to appear on a major-league roster.
Contrary to popular belief familiarity breeds affection far more often than it breeds contempt. Being around something makes you more inclined to like it more over time. That’s the basic reasoning behind Billy Crystal’s idea that men and women can’t be friends from When Harry Met Sally, or the far less elegant, but perhaps more relevant, “Mermaid Theory” from How I Met Your Mother.
Butler has been around long enough that the baseball world has justified his continued existence by cognitive dissonance. He’s played 10 years, banked over $52 million and appeared in over 1,400 games, so he must have value.
Except he doesn’t. He’s not even a warm-and-fuzzy team-building guy for the clubhouse. Instead, he’s the kind of guy who apparently tries to put the kybosh on a teammate’s endorsement deal for no apparent person gain.
For the next little while, Billy Butler is going to be a Yankee. He’s a name, but at this point he isn’t really anything else.
Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports