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Some reasons to (not) worry about Rockies rookie Eddie Butler

Historical comparisons show that pitchers with Butler's walk and strikeout profile have had success, but it relied on improving that profile.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Eddie Butler has had an uneven season thus far—some good starts, some poor ones. A couple of aspects about his game have remained consistent though. They are important parts: Butler has been walking a lot of batters and striking out few.

This season, Butler has struck out 4.8 batters per nine, which is quite an improvement compared to the three starts he made in 2014. In all, he’s struck out 4.1 batters per nine innings in 14 career starts. In his 11 major league starts this season, Butler has also walked five batters per nine innings pitched. Coupled with his three starts last year, he has a total mark of 4.7 walks per nine.

Butler has to improve.

Using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I searched for pitchers with similar walk and strikeout profiles using multiple sets of parameters. The goal is to find historical comparisons—to place Eddie Butler in the context of other players’ careers. While I found some fine careers, on the whole, such profiles don’t lend themselves to success.

Butler has to improve.

All searches are for players since 1961 (integration and expansion eras) who started at least 90 percent of their games and pitched at least 70 innings, with K/9 rate below five and a BB/9 above four. Essentially, I’m searching for other Eddie Butlers.

Parameter 1: First and second seasons

Who has started their career in a similar manner, and did they find success? Baseball-Reference finds 29 other pitchers to put up similar numbers in their first two seasons. Butler makes 30. Measured by ERA+, the best of the bunch is Dennis Blair, who posted a 109 ERA+ in 1974-1975 for the Expos. In all, six of the 30 pitchers have an ERA+ above 100, which means that six of the 30 were above average relative to their peers.

Notably, all of the better-than-average pitchers began their careers prior to 1990. The most recent is Mike Dunn, who had a 107 ERA+ from 1987-1988 for the Pirates. In other words, it was a different era. For instance, in 1988, the baseball wide K/9 and BB/9 were 5.58 and 3.10, respectively. So far in 2015, those figures are 7.66 and 2.88. The most recent pitcher to begin his career with Butler’s strikeout and walk profile is Shairon Martis, who did so from 2008-2009.

Parameter 2: Age 23-24 seasons, at least 70 innings pitched

Rather than years one and two, let’s look at age comparisons. This list is much shorter. That says something about how young Butler is right now. A lot of the pitchers who showed up for the previous search were a couple years older than Butler is now. Only 15 pitchers, including Butler, fit the bill. Only one of these players had an above average ERA+ in the timeframe searched. Rich Gale had a 124 ERA+ while striking out 4.12 per nine innings and walking 4.68 for the 1978 Kansas City Royals as a 24-year-old. The next best pitcher according to ERA+ is Jamey Wright, who had a 99 ERA+ for the Rockies in 1998-1999 while striking out four batters per nine innings and walking 4.68.

As opposed to the last search, Butler has more contemporaries in this one, even though the list is shorter. The two names that offer the most hope are Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta. As 24-year-olds, both pitchers had very similar profiles. Keuchel’s 85 innings saw him strike out 4.01 batters per nine and walk 4.11. In 100 innings, Arrieta struck out 4.66 batters per nine innings, and he walked 4.31.

Keuchel turned it around in large part by developing his slider, which complemented his four- and two-seam fastballs and changeup (that should sound familiar). Keuchel’s improvement in 2013 regarding strikeouts and walks—7.20 and 3.05 per nine—preceded his 2014 breakout.

Arrieta’s breakout similarly relied on the slider, though it’s less clear whether it was development or just using it a bunch more. Whatever it was, it resulted in more strikeouts and fewer walks.

These are hopeful comparisons. But, then again, Dewon Brazelton is also on this list.

Parameter 3: Career

This short list includes only one success story. There are only seven names, including Butler. Paul Edmondson, Kevin Morton, Matt Wagner, and Jeff Byrd aren’t just names of baseball players you’ve probably never heard of, but are players with Eddie Butler’s strikeout and walk profile who lasted just one season in the major leagues. Mitch Talbot pitched three non-consecutive seasons—not due to injury. Mike Torrez pitched 18 seasons and is a subject for an entirely different article.

Butler is the seventh. There has been one major league pitcher with Butler’s current strikeout and walk profile to have sustained success, and he pitched from 1967-1984.

Eddie Butler will either improve his strikeouts and walks or fail as a major leaguer.

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On May 15 of this season, Butler completed his 50th inning as a big leaguer, and with it he lost rookie eligibility. And with that, he was no longer a prospect. Good.

Now for a comparison not culled from strikeouts and walks. Chad Bettis ranked among the Rockies' top 10 prospects from 2010-2013. He started eight games at the big league level in 2013, with pretty awful results. In 2014, he threw more similarly awful innings out of the bullpen. After he eclipsed the innings threshold for rookie status, Bettis was already a post-prospect. Now, at age 26, Bettis has seemingly figured out how to stay in a major league rotation and be effective.

Prior to a prospect’s call-up, patience is frequently offered as the counter to the demand for immediate gratification. That patience has to remain for post-prospects. Dallas Keuchel broke out at 26, during his third season; Jake Arrieta broke out in his fifth season, at 28 years old; it’s too early to call Chad Bettis a breakout player, but he seems to be figuring it out at 26.

Post-prospect land is now where Eddie Butler sits. While there, he simply has to figure out the strikeouts and walks—at least one of those, but preferably two. There’s no precedent of success for the rate at which Butler has struck out and walked batters.

Strikeouts and walks will tell us a lot regarding whether Eddie Butler, post-prospect, can turn it around.