The Eddie Butler Strikeout Problem
Eddie Butler is twelve starts into his major league career and all things considered, it hasn’t lived up to the hype.
When Eddie Butler broke camp as a member of the Rockies rotation, it wasn’t expected for him to be elite right away. His numbers in AA Tulsa weren’t otherworldly and it was a large consensus that he would have to develop a bit in the majors before living up to the hype as one of the best pitching prospects the Rockies have ever had.
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But, even beyond that, there’s a concerning trend in Eddie Butler’s first twelve starts that was highlighted by Fangraphs before the season began: his strikeout rate. In the lower levels Butler was an elite strikeout pitcher, striking out over eight batters per game in his meteoric rise from Asheville to Tulsa in 2013. But that number has dipped considerably since a shoulder injury in 2013 and his ability to miss bats hasn’t returned yet in his starts in 2015.
A still developing change-up may help Butler in the major leagues, but the concern lies in his fastball not fooling anyone. Butler has thrown his dominant pitch 380 times and has only gotten a swinging strike 4.7% of the time. That’s roughly 18 swinging strikes on a pitch Butler needs to consistently miss bats if he wants to be successful at the major league level.
His slider is his out pitch, he won’t use his fastball to get swinging third strikes often, but it’s difficult to even get to a situation where he can use that slider if he can’t get batters to miss early in counts. Yesterday’s start against the Reds highlighted Eddie’s issue, he faced 28 hitters and recorded 18 outs in his six innings of work, but only one of those outs was a strikeout (opposing pitcher Jason Marquis). Beyond the one strikeout, Butler was struggling missing bats as a whole. He left his slider and change-up high in the zone and his fastball regularly lacked the movement needed to get a swing and a miss.
George Frazier made a good point (shockingly) in the broadcast that sometimes hitters hit a good pitch, which is true for Butler, but also the problem is they’re hitting a lot of his good pitches.
It’s one thing to hit your spot; it’s another to fool the hitter. Butler isn’t accomplishing the latter; his stuff is there, we’ve seen it and the majority of pitches you see getting hit aren’t bad pitches per se, but they just aren’t fooling anyone as to where they’re going to go.
Butler’s inability to miss bats early isn’t a complete indictment of his future career but it’s certainly concerning. It may just be that he’s raw, that he hasn’t learned how to fool hitters, but it would be a little less worrisome if he struggled in other areas. In the Fangraphs piece linked above, it highlights that a K rate as low as Butler’s rarely spells success in the Major Leagues, with Sonny Gray being the only star of the group.
A lot of people point to Butler’s walk rate as the reason he’s struggled, but that’s too simple. Butler may be nibbling and missing the zone because he can’t trust his stuff to get whiffs and suddenly this issue starts to affect his entire game because he loses control completely and can’t get through six innings. This also leads to a 27:23 BB: K ratio, which is what many people point to when they highlight Eddie’s struggles. It leads to two kinds of Butler starts, one where he walks too many batters to get through a start or one where he gives up nine hits and can’t make it through a start.
Eddie may not need to be the ace he looked like early in his professional career, but if he continues to be too predictable to hitters he could find himself in a bullpen role or washed out of Colorado as yet another pitching bust.