Royals first baseman Billy Butler is having a very nice season, hitting .308/.379/.456 with 46 extra-base hits and nearly as many walks (53) as strikeouts (56) as a 24-year-old, but he’s also closing in on a dubious record.
Butler has grounded into 26 double plays, which is the most in baseball this season, ties the Royals’ franchise record, and puts him on pace to come up just short of the all-time record of 36 by Jim Rice in 1984. Rice also holds the second spot on the list with 35 double plays in 1985, and right now Butler is on pace for 34.
Butler offered a good explanation when asked about his DP total:
You hit a lot of hard balls on the ground and you don’t run very well. It’s a bad combination. It’s inevitable. My strikeouts are down, so I’m getting more contact, so the odds are higher for that. It’s one of those things that’s going to happen. Double plays are part of the game.
Many people assume that double plays come primarily from someone being a slow runner, but in reality that’s merely one factor. For instance, Jim Thome has been one of the slowest players in baseball for 20 years now, yet has grounded into just 9.5 double plays per 150 games.
Thome is slow, but he also puts very few balls in play thanks to tons of homers, walks, and strikeouts, and when he does put the ball in play it’s in the air a very high percentage of the time. Butler, on the other hand, compounds his lack of speed with a low strikeout rate that leads to lots of balls in play and has one of the league’s highest ground-ball rates. He’s also right-handed, which is a little icing on the double play cake.
Butler is still having a good year despite all the double plays, but they do make his production less valuable than it initially appears. He’s grounded into 15 more double plays than the average hitter would in his 523 plate appearances, and if you take those 15 “extra” outs and subtract them from his .308 batting average and .379 on-base percentage it would leave him hitting .275 with a .349 OBP instead.
The lesson here? As always, Jim Rice shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.
Last night the Detroit Lions played the New York Giants. During the game Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford called an audible. The call itself referenced Stafford’s childhood friend and high school baseball teammate, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. From the Freep:
Matthew Stafford stepped to the line of scrimmage late in the third quarter and surveyed the Giants defense.
With five pass rushers across the front and three Giants cornerbacks showing a press-man look, Stafford looked at his two receivers to the left and invoked the name of his childhood friend, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
“Give me Kershaw here, Kershaw,” Stafford said, repeating his friend’s name two more times as he spun around at the line of scrimmage.
The audible did not result in a pick-4 to Aaron Altherr. It called for a run up the middle. And it worked nicely, gaining eight yards.
You may suggest the results of other starting pitcher-themed audibles in the comments. I’ll start: “Harvey! Harvey!” is where the QB fakes a handoff, drops back, looks deep and then his arm falls completely off. Damndest thing.
Matt Harvey‘s season was mostly a loss due to extended time on the disabled list. He’s been given a chance, however, to end the season strong and make a case for himself in the Mets’ future plans. Unfortunately, he has been unable to make that case. He was shelled again last night, and his late season opportunity has been a disaster.
Last night Harvey gave up seven runs on 12 hits and struck out only two batters in four innings against a Marlins team that, until facing him anyway, had been reeling. It was his fourth start since going on the shelf in mid-June and in those four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. His average fastball velocity, while ticking up slightly in each of his past four starts, is still below 95. Back when he was an ace he was consistently above that. His command has been terrible.
Injury is clearly the culprit. He had Tommy John surgery just as he was reaching his maximum level of dominance in 2013. While he came back strong in 2015, he was used pretty heavily for a guy with a brand new ligament. Last year he was felled by thoracic outlet syndrome and this year a stress injury to his shoulder. Any one of those ailments have ended pitchers’ careers and even among those who bounce back from them, many are diminished. To go through all three and remain dominant is practically unheard of.
Yet this is where Matt Harvey is. He’s 28. He’s still arbitration eligible, for a team that is, to put it politely, sensitive to large financial outlays. While his 4-5 start opportunity to end the year may very well have been seen as a chance to shop Harvey to another team, his trade value is at an all-time low. It would not be shocking if, on the basis of his recent ineffectiveness, the Mets considered non-tendering him this offseason, making him a free agent.
Someone would probably take a chance on him because famous names who once showed tremendous promise are often given multiple chances in the big leagues (See, Willis, Dontrelle). But at the moment, there is nothing in Harvey’s game to suggest that he is capable of taking advantage of such a chance. All one can hope is that an offseason of rest and conditioning will allow Harvey to reclaim at least a portion of his old form.