Eddie Butler Effectively Wild in Cubs Debut

For the record, I had planned to write about how Eddie Butler was effectively wild Friday night and about how it was clear the adrenaline dump precipitated by his first Cubs start was evident in the early going. But because my analytical skills are so finely honed, that all sounds redundant when you hear Butler talk about the start. Either that, or I picked out the two most obvious tropes to describe his performance.

“I think I was effectively wild,” Butler told Jesse Rogers (I can hear Bruce Levine in the video too) through a wry smile. “I threw enough strikes and moved the ball around enough to keep ’em off balance. In, out, up, down, just really attacking as much as possible.”

That’s what impressed me the most, along with a four-seamer that touched 97 with some wicked arm-side run. We’ll talk about that in more detail here in a bit, but it also looked as though Butler and Willson Contreras had a good rapport out there. It was particularly evident at one point late in his outing, Butler was grinding and stalling out on the mound.

That doesn’t work for a catcher who plays with his hair on fire, so Contreras gave an exasperated — and exaggerated — “run it again” motion with his index finger before going through another set of signs. Sure enough, Butler served it up and nailed down his outing.

“Me and Willy, we had a good gameplan coming into it and we followed it pretty well. Ended up getting the guys a couple zeroes there and they put up some runs.”

If you looked only at the box score and saw that Butler issued three walks against five strikeouts and that 38 of his 94 pitches were balls, you might be led to believe that he was dancing around and avoiding the Cardinals hitters. Not true. He threw first-pitch strikes at a 60.9 percent clip, just above league average, and generated swings on pitches out of the zone at 28.8 percent, also just above average.

While those numbers are not conclusive by any stretch, they are indicative of both how well Butler pitched Friday and how much better he can pitch moving forward. Working the four-seamer heavily out of the gate (18 of 27 1st inning pitches), Butler frequently missed off the plate away to lefties and in to righties. That location was less a function of playing it safe and more about being pumped up and missing his spots.

Except with this one. This one was nice.

Once he had settled in, Butler worked with the two-seam, slider, and curve, with the change thrown in there only occasionally. That latter offering is something I’d really love for him to rediscover, as it once had potential to be a devastating weapon. Then again, it’s hard to argue with what he did Friday without it.

And when you consider how much better he could get by dialing the location in just a little bit, Butler could be a big boon to the Cubs rotation. He’s never been a control freak, so expecting him to become such is going to leave you disappointed. But he doesn’t need to throw strikes if he can start that fastball just a little more over the plate and then watch it run to generate swings and either misses or weak contact.

Butler’s quality start was the third straight for a rotation that has been woefully inconsistent and unable to go very deep into games with the same frequency we saw the last two years. It’s too early to say that the former Rockies prospect is the answer, or even part of it, but it’s not hard to imagine him staying up and solidifying a unit that may no longer need or want Brett Anderson.

When asked if Joe Maddon had already made up his mind about the final rotation spot belonging to Butler, the winning pitcher responded in much the same manner as every fan watching the game.

“Sounds good to me.”

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