Eddie Butler is the first pitcher to appear on our list. He pitched the fifth most innings for the Rockies in 2015 with 79 1/3, and he made the fifth most starts with 16. While Butler's 5.90 ERA places him behind both Kyle Kendrick (6.32) and David Hale (5.09) among Rockies' starters with at least 75 innings pitched, Butler's inability to strike batters out, and his proclivity to walk them, mean that he was the least valuable Rockies pitcher in 2015. This is reflected in adjusted pitching metrics.
Butler was also one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball. I've mentioned Baseball Prospectus's new pitching statistics Deserved Run Average (DRA), which is measured by linear weights. In other words, the DRA penalize the pitcher more harshly for batting outcomes that are more likely to lead to runs, such as homers and doubles. You often see batting average against cited as a measure of how well a pitcher has done. Think of DRA as wRC+ against. The metric is then adjusted for things like ballpark, umpire, catcher, and even weather. Those adjustments, however, are small. The core of DRA is how well hitters have done against a given pitcher.
Eddie Butler's 6.69 DRA ranked 175 out of 176 pitchers with at least 75 innings pitched in 2015. It was 56 percent worse than league average. Another thing about DRA is that it is a descriptive statistic, like ERA. It tells us precisely what happened, but it does not necessarily suggest that what happened should be expected going forward. DRA's compatriot cFIP, however, is predictive. Butler's cFIP was 129, which was tied with Tim Hudson and teammate Kyle Kendrick for the worst in baseball.
Essentially, if you're a major league hitter, and you could choose one pitcher to face in a critical situation because you not only need a hit, but a run producing hit, Eddie Butler is making a really compelling argument that he should be that pitcher.
In May, I wrote about Butler's pitch sequencing and overall approach to hitters. The takeaway was that Butler is a conscientious pitchers who has a plan of attack for particular batters in particular situations. That probably has remained true, but that doesn't necessarily translate to big league success.
In June, I then wrote about some reasons to worry about Butler. Namely, his strikeout and walk rates—which finished up at 4.99/9 and 4.76/9, respectively—simply won't translate to major league success. The problem is multiplied by the fact that, as indicated by his DRA, Butler has been extremely hittable. There's no precedent for a pitcher with this profile sustaining major league success. There is, however, precedent for pitchers who have had similar rates early in their careers and turned things around. In fact, new aces Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrietta are two examples.
Butler might also conquer his walk and strikeout troubles; he also might become less hittable. But I'm not holding my breath. We can continue to say that "it's too early to write him off" until, unbeknownst to us at the time, we look back and realize that he was absent from the script all along. As of now, Butler's ceiling is either fifth starter or relief pitcher. Both are necessary roles on a winning ball club. But thus far in his career, we have more reasons to be pessimistic than optimistic that he'll even achieve his re-calibrated ceiling.