Eddie Butler was once a consensus top prospect. In 2014, Baseball America, MLB.com, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Keith Law all rated the right-hander among the top 30 in their respected prospect rankings. Butler rose quickly through the minor leagues, posting a 2.39 ERA High A in 2013 before finishing the season with a 0.65 ERA in six starts with Colorado’s Double-A club. He had the hype, and many thought he was destined to be a fixture in Colorado’s rotation for years to come. But after just 159.1 innings in the big leagues, the Rockies threw in the towel and designated Butler for assignment on Jan. 28.
He’s now in waiver purgatory, awaiting a second chance, and if the Milwaukee Brewers were smart, they’d have already put in a claim for him.
Butler has been anything but a good pitcher during his brief major league career. He’s actually been below replacement level. He owns a 6.50 ERA, 5.69 FIP and 4.90 xFIP, and has struck out just 12.7 percent of batters faced while walking 9.5 percent. His WAR (-0.5) is tied for the third-lowest total among all pitchers with at least 150 innings since 2014. In other words, 297 pitchers have been more valuable to their teams than Butler. It’s no surprise the Rockies gave up on him.
But maybe, just maybe, Butler can transform into a decent pitcher — whether that’s as a starter or reliever — once he gets out of the hitter-friendly Colorado air. Now, Miller Park caters to hitters as well, but not nearly as much as Coors Field. As long as you don’t give up too many fly balls in Milwaukee, you at least have a shot at being serviceable. In Colorado, a whole array of different factors can hurt you, and that’s what happened to Butler.
As the years went on, Butler started getting hit harder and harder. Hitters were squaring up on his pitches like it was nobody’s business, and Butler began to give up more fly balls that ultimately sailed out of the park. But, as bad as that is, it’s also why I think he could be a better player in Milwaukee.
Butler’s fly ball rate in each of the above three seasons were well below league average, yet he gave up more home runs than it would suggest. Your average starting pitcher gave up a round tripper on 13.3 percent of his fly balls in 2016. Butler greatly succeeded that, despite allowing far fewer fly balls. Yes, I know Coors Field played a role in this, but still, Butler deserved better.
Butler had a tough time combating this effect for a few reasons, but the main culprit is his inability to miss bats. He just doesn’t strike out batters. Even in the minors when he was one of the top prospects his strikeout rates were uninspiring. The evidence of his future demise in Colorado was there, though many didn’t see it. Despite that, though, he’s suffered from some bad luck. Coors Field is usually mean to pitchers, but for Butler, it was just plain cruel, and a change of scenery could positively alter his career path.
Which is why the Brewers should want to take a chance on the 25-year-old. They are a rebuilding team that has not shied away from signing once highly regarded prospects to minor-league deals. They did it with Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini, and granted, they didn’t exactly work out, but that’s not the point. With Butler, there’s a fair chance he improves. For starters, he’s extremely young and still has time to turn it around. His home runs will surely plummet in Miller Park, and since he does fairly well at keeping the ball on the ground, his BABIP would probably improve to somewhere around league average as well. It also helps that Milwaukee has a revamped infield defense.
I ran Butler’s 2017 projection as if he were a member of the Brewers, and here’s what it spit out if he were to start 15 games.
Keep in mind that even if the Brewers do claim Butler, odds are he probably won’t even sniff the starting rotation in 2017. He’s out of minor league options, so if the Brewers did claim him, he’d be placed in the bullpen. I simply wanted to see how he’d perform if he was somehow given 15 starts. The numbers aren’t good, but they’re significantly better than his stats during his Colorado days, mostly thanks to his lower BABIP and HR/FB%. But overall, they’re quite similar to Chase Anderson‘s projection, which I find interesting.
As it stands right now, the Brewers have one of the worst starting rotations in MLB. They have a few exciting pitchers coming up through the minors, but the current rotation doesn’t look good. Signing Butler gives them more depth and another option. Best case scenario is that he turns into a reliable fifth starter or a long reliever out of the bullpen. There’s literally no risk here for a rebuilding club.
Butler was once a top prospect for a reason, and although we can’t blame the entirety of his struggles on Coors Field, it definitely killed him. He needs a new ballpark, a new team and a new sense of confidence.