NASHVILLE - If the Royals trade Billy Butler, now the news reports will have to say the Royals traded 2012 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award winner Billy Butler. Because Tuesday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced that Billy Butler won the 2012 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.
In fairness to history, we should probably mention that Butler didn't have a great deal of competition for the garlands. David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion both hit brilliantly, but Ortiz spent a good chunk of the season on the Disabled List and Encarnacion played a lot of first base. Neither slugger started more than 82 games in the DH slot.
In fact, only two players started even 100 games as DH: Billy Butler (138) and Delmon Young (116). Both were 26 last season, both are right-handed batters, and both are essentially worthless without bats in their hands.
Baseball-wise, though, there's one big difference between them: Butler is a really good hitter, and Young is not. Butler's got a 123 OPS+ in his career, while Young's is 98. When you combine Young's hitting with his other "contributions", it's really hard to make the case that he belongs in the majors at all. Let alone getting (as he did last season) 608 plate appearances.
But that's neither here nor there, except to point out that Billy Butler really didn't have any competition at all for the Edgar Martinez Award.
It was Butler's first, but seems appropriate because Butler's reminded me of Martinez almost since he first arrived in the majors in 2007. He's just got that quick, level right-handed swing that doesn't send a lot of balls over the fence, but does deliver line drives like clockwork. In one respect, Butler actually has it all over Martinez.
Butler's still only 26, and he's collected 956 hits already. That makes him 890 hits ahead of Martinez at the same age.
Yeah, that's right: When Edgar Martinez turned 27, he'd collected 66 hits as a major leaguer. It wasn't until his Age 27 season that Martinez really did anything in the majors at all.
What does Butler's huge head start over Martinez tell us? Well, Edgar finished with only 2,247 hits; Butler, if he stays reasonably healthy, has a great shot at passing Martinez on that list. But that won't necessarily make him the better player. Beginning in that Age 27 season, Martinez was an excellent hitter: high batting average, lots of doubles, lots of walks. And it's the latter category where Butler falls short. Martinez finished his career with a .418 on-base percentage; Butler's now sitting at .362, and that 56-point difference is massive when considering players who do little but hit.
Edgar Martinez was a Hall of Fame-quality hitter whose late start has (to this point) left him short of serious consideration by the Hall of Fame voters. Butler got an early start, but he won't be a Hall of Fame-quality hitter until he lifts either his power or his on-base percentage.