Hot-hitting Butler KC's Player of Year
Home hit parade fueled .301 season batting average
KANSAS CITY -- Home is where the heart is or, in Billy Butler's case, home is where the hits are.
Butler hit up a storm last season at Kauffman Stadium. He didn't do too bad elsewhere either, and fittingly, he was named on Monday as the Royals' Player of the Year.
This is the first time that Butler has won the Les Milgram Award, and the honor signals his arrival as the fine Major League hitter the Royals had thought he would become.
Kansas City fans got a good view of Butler's accomplishments, as he posted a gaudy .361 average in home games and banged 16 of his 21 home runs at the refurbished Kauffman Stadium. Not that the park's home run distances changed, but Butler just seemed very comfortable there, spraying the ball all around and sometimes outside its spacious contours.
"I got into a rhythm at home. I've got to develop a routine like that on the road before a game. I get into a set routine -- the cage in the same spot and everything like that. ... Next year, I want to go out and hit .360 on the road -- it could be the other way around," Butler said.
"The fans were pumping me and cheering me on, and that gives you confidence, but I just felt comfortable at home. I saw the ball great, and when you're confident at a certain place, you perform better."
In fact, over the 41 seasons of Royals baseball and the 37 years of Kauffman Stadium, Butler's .361 was the sixth-best home average in club history and the highest since Johnny Damon also reached .361 in 2000. The top average is George Brett's .391 in 1980, the season his overall mark was .390.
On the road this year, Butler batted .240 for an overall finish of .301.
Obviously Butler feels at home at Kauffman.
"Absolutely," he said. "People say it's bad for home runs and everything like that, but there are still a lot of hits out there because it's a much bigger outfield, a lot of room to find hits. But it doesn't matter what stadium it's in, it shouldn't matter. You should be able to go up there and do the same thing."
Butler, at 23, is the youngest player to win the Milgram Award since Brett won in 1976, also at age 23.
"Everyone in Kansas City knows what George Brett means to the city and what he's done in the city," Butler said. "It's a no-brainer, I'm not in George Brett's category, but it's an amazing accomplishment and hopefully it's just the first of many. Obviously, I wish I could have won this award and we could have had a more special season. This award is an honor, but winning is more important than this award."
Butler's award-winning year also included 51 doubles, just three shy of Hal McRae's club record set in 1977. Butler logged four games with three doubles -- the first hitter since 1900, we're told, to do that in the same season. One other doubles note: Butler and Alberto Callaspo combined for 92 two-baggers, most in club history by one double. They surpassed the 1982 effort of McRae (46) and Frank White (45).
Not only did Butler lead the club with his .301 average, his 93 RBIs were 20 more than runner-up Callaspo.
"I struggled early," Butler said, "but if I'd have had a good April this year, you don't know how many I'd have had."
Butler also was just the fifth Major Leaguer to post at least 50 doubles and 20 homers in a season before the age of 24, joining Hank Greenberg, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Magglio Ordonez.
It was a big turnaround year for Butler who, in late May of the 2008 season, found himself demoted to Triple-A Omaha for a month-long tuneup of his batting skills. Rejuvenated, he returned in late June, and after the All-Star break, batted .305. He's been on a roll since -- except for that .193 in his first 18 games this year, a stumble he quickly overcame.
Before the 2009 season was very old, Butler took over first base virtually full-time, moving out of the designated-hitter role. He logged 145 of his 159 games at first and made 10 errors while handling 1,243 chances.
Now, at home at Idaho Falls, Idaho, with wife Katie and daughter Kenley, Butler is already hard into his conditioning program for next year. Last winter, he firmed up his body and lost a few pounds. The changes obviously were a plus.
"There's nothing I should change from the last offseason," Butler said. "I played 159 games and was healthy and had no problems. I plan on playing 162 next year -- I've just got to play three more."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.