Making excuses for a .188/.267/.288/.555 line is hard, but there’s usually some case for bad luck when one’s BABIP is .227 like Butera’s was in 2014. The problem is that this year’s number isn’t that far off from his career mark at .217. This is all a long way of saying that Butera has proven that he just can’t hit MLB pitching, and there doesn’t appear to be much upside or any reason to think a drastic improvement will be coming.
Of course, a defensive catcher is valuable, and that perception of Butera continues to follow him, which is why he’ll forever get playing time. Butera did throw out 32% of runners in 2014, which is above league average (28%), but since his catch-and-throw game is probably what earned him his reputation behind the dish, it also wasn’t all that impressive. That’s especially true when one considers that Butera ranked among the league leaders in passed balls on the year with nine (in less than 450 innings), and while he was an improvement on blocking balls (16 wild pitches) over Ellis, he didn’t exactly excel against the eye test either.
Nevertheless, Butera’s role on the Dodgers stems from the comparison to A.J. defensively, because all Butera needed to do was be average in order to be valuable to the club. As Mike has already reviewed, A.J. had a lot of trouble framing pitches, and while Butera doesn’t excel at the skill by any means, he does have a -3.3 RAA (runs above average) for his career in framing, and was 1.5 RAA in 2014, providing a significant boost in that respect when compared to A.J.
Add it all together and Butera is almost as replacement level as one can get, and for better or worse that was more than enough to justify rostering him throughout 2014 on a team with a $5 billion payroll.
Butera probably could’ve been the second-best reliever out of the pen in the playoffs for the Dodgers, seeing that he holds a 1.87 SIERA and 2.22 xFIP for the 2014 season. Butera to pitcher means a championship, and that’s obviously how the team should clear the roster crunch with FedEx out of options next year.
2015 Status: Drew Butera is eligible for arbitration and should probably get paid in the $1 million range or so. For better or worse, I expect him to be back as the backup catcher next year barring some surprise signing of Russell Martin or the Dodgers somehow choosing Tim Federowicz as the backup because they don’t want to expose him to waivers.