In case you were wondering based on his absence from the Cubs’ probable pitchers in the next series, yes, Eddie Butler is staying in the big league rotation for now. He simply had his next start bumped to Friday because of the off-day, which allows Jon Lester to pitch against the Reds on normal rest on Thursday (Tribune).
Also, for whatever it’s worth, the Reds have been basically split neutral this year, whereas the Brewers have hit righties just about league average, while destroying lefties (117 wRC+ against). Not that Jon Lester is your usual lefty, but all else equal, maybe it’s just a little extra reason to appreciate the switch.
The big question is how Butler will fare in his second big league start with the Cubs after looking so good in St. Louis against the Cardinals. He says he needs to work on tightening up the slider (Tribune), and he could also stand to be a little less wild. But if he is as hard to hit as he was against the Cardinals, he’ll be fine.
To that end, I still find it fascinating how often he was going to the four-seam fastball (generally more velocity, less lateral movement, and less drop) over the two-seam (more lateral movement plus sink) fastball, and how effective it was for him.
You’ll recall, Butler was a top pitching prospect in the Rockies’ organization before hitting something of a wall at the big league level. I remembered discussion of getting him back to using his two-seamer more and in a more comfortable arm slot after the trade, so I looked back to find an example of the talk we were hearing before his start against the Cardinals.
This FanGraphs piece from late April includes a lot of thoughts from Butler on what went wrong with the Rockies, and from members of the Cubs organization on how they were making things work. This, in particular, stood out:
“The last two years I was mainly four-seam, and that’s not where I need to be. I’m a two-seam guy. They told me I couldn’t really command the glove side of the plate — everything I was throwing was arm side — and focusing my attention on that took away from what I’d been doing. My extension went away, and I struggled. It’s tough to be consistent, trying to do one thing when your body wants you to do another.”
There is additional discussion of two things: getting that comfort back, and working more with the two-seamer. I remember other discussions like this. So you’ll forgive us (maybe including the Cardinals) if we were all surprised to see Butler throw far more four-seamers (38) than two-seamers (23) on Friday. Given that Butler seemed to go more and more to the four-seamer as the evening went on, especially after some two-seam wildness early, I think it was mostly a matter of adjusting the game plan on the fly.
But it does make me all the more curious to see what happens this Friday against the Brewers. I am tentatively expecting Butler not to have quite the same velocity (96-97mph) he was showing against the Cardinals, what with a little extra adrenaline flowing (not to mention Wrigley’s possibly-probably slow gun). But will we see more of the two-seamer, if that’s what he’s been working on with the Cubs? Or has the added arm slot comfort allowed Butler to employ a better four-seamer after two years of working on it with the Rockies?
I am a nerd, and I will be very interested to see.
In the interim, your “news” update here is simply that Lester is starting on Thursday against the Reds, while Butler will go on Friday against the Brewers.