Keving Pillar has taken a fascinating journey through the Toronto Blue Jays system. The 32nd round pick from 2011 started off as organizational filler, overachieving his way through lower levels before grabbing the attention of the Major League roster. Now the everyday center fielder on a contending team, Pillar is more than just a highlight-reel catch that drew attention earlier in the season. Pillar is hitting, and in a strangely quiet way, has become one of the most valuable players on the Blue Jays roster.
According to FanGraphs WAR rankings, Pillar ranks fourth in terms of wins above replacement among positional players. His 2.2 WAR is bested only by Josh Donaldson (5.0), Russell Martin (2.9) and Jose Bautista (2.8). We knew his defense would play, but following a hot start with the bat and extended slump, Pillar has made the necessary adjustments to become a consistent offensive force.
His average has now grown to .273, already posting seven home runs for 37 RBI and a valuable 15 stolen bases. When we look at June and July together, though, the numbers grab you by the collar of your shirt.
In 44 starts over that span, Pillar has posted an incredible slash line of .331 / .352 / .485. Five of his home runs have come as part of this hot streak, and while he will never be a base-on-balls machine, Pillar has limited his strikeouts to a manageable level. These numbers are surely not sustainable, but they represent more than a one-week stroke of luck and support what some of us have said since March: that Kevin Pillar is the type of player that can grow into a role, and excel with consistent at-bats.
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Toronto’s offensive barrage in 2015 is generally credited to the likes of Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Martin. Rightfully so, as the heart of the Blue Jays order has been lethal, and more importantly, they’ve been relatively consistent. What has allowed this order to truly soar as a whole, however, has been the bottom three.
When we look to last year, the Blue Jays lineup consistently offered opposing pitcher’s a resting spot from 7-to-9. This season, it’s been a completely different story. Chris Colabello has posted numbers well beyond even the most optimistic projections, Devon Travis has emerged as one of the league’s top rookies and Kevin Pillars has done, well, this.
While Pillar is due for his slumps, this lineup does not call for him to be an All Star. I don’t accept the idea that good lineups can carry one or two pieces of dead weight (why should they?), but as long as Pillar can continue to attack his craft like he has throughout 2015, this lineup won’t need to.
The remainder of 2015 for Pillar will be about proving how sustainable this truly is. He has experienced a hot streak early followed by a stretch where he was helpless at the plate, so will the league adjust similarly this time around? Every adjustment as a hitter is about removing one more hole from a swing, and Pillar appears to have done that. There are miles to go, but in the twilight of July, Kevin Pillar has given us more than anyone would have guessed. Perhaps even Pillar, himself.