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Chicago Cubs: Is Eddie Butler a legitimate big league starter?

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May 30, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Eddie Butler (33) reacts after giving up a two run home run to San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges (background) during the second inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Eddie Butler (33) reacts after giving up a two run home run to San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges (background) during the second inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /
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Due to recent injuries, Eddie Butler has stepped into the starting rotation, but is he a legitimate big league starter for the Chicago Cubs?

Eddie Butler became a member of the Chicago Cubs last off-season when the North Siders completed a trade with the Colorado Rockies.

What the Cubs received from the Rockies was a 25-year-old right-hander who owned a career 6.61 ERA in 36 big league appearances over three years. Despite his awful numbers, the Cubs decided that a change of scenery would help Butler.

After trading for Butler, the Cubs assigned him to Triple-A Iowa. There, Butler excelled, recording a 1.17 ERA with 17 strikeouts and eight walks in 30 2/3 innings pitched.

Butler would not have to wait long to make his Cub debut. On May 7, it was announced that Brett Anderson would be placed on the DL with a bad back. Five days later, on May 12, Butler was starting against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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The first impression of Butler was good. After scattering two hits over six innings, and striking out five Cardinal batters, Cubs’ fans believed Butler was the second coming of Jake Arrieta. Despite the hope of many, Butler would start to struggle once again.

Even though Butler yielded only three hits in his next outing on May 19, he would allow two runs and walk five batters on 92 pitches, lasting just three innings.

Butler would continue to mix lackluster performances with solid outings. Even with some moderate success, one underlying problem always seemed to leak to the surface. Command.

In 29 innings at the major league level in 2017, Butler has allowed 15 free passes. That means Butler’s walk percentage is sitting at 12.1%. That is the highest walk rate of Butler’s career at any level according to FanGraphs.

Despite his struggles, there is hope

There is no doubt Eddie Butler has struggled in his career. Still, some forget he is only 26 years old and has just 188 1/3 innings of big league experience. Amidst all of his struggles, Butler has the raw talent to become a solid big league starter.

According to FanGraphs, Butler throws his fastball just over 93 MPH, while mixing in a slider, curveball, and change-up. The numbers suggest that Butler is throwing all his pitches harder than he normally does. For Butler, his slider averages 87.4 MPH, but this season, it is averaging 92 MPH. Butler’s curveball and change-up have also seen jumps in speed, which may suggest they are being overthrown. If that is the case, it could explain why Butler’s walk totals are up this season.

Even with high walk numbers, Butler’s contact percentage is down from a year ago. Moreover, Butler has been able to decrease the contact rate of pitches thrown in the strike zone this year. This may suggest that Butler has more movement on his pitches, perhaps because he is throwing them harder.

There is still a lot left in the tank for Butler

With Brett Anderson now on the 60-day DL, and Kyle Hendricks banged up, it looks as if Butler will remain in the Cubs’ rotation for at least a few more starts. Overall, Butler has not been terrible this season as he is averaging 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and has allowed just two home runs in six starts.

With regards to Butler, one should remember that this guy is still young and inexperienced. He flashed his potential in his first start as a Cub and should be able to recapture that same level of performance in time.

Let’s not forget Butler was a first round pick in 2012 and posted a 1.80 ERA in his first full professional season a year later.

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Right now, patience is the key when talking about Eddie Butler. The youngster has the raw talent to be special in the majors; he just needs to get his command under control. If he can do that, Cubs fans may indeed see the second coming of Jake Arrieta.

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