A long time ago, when our Jays Nest podcast discussed the upcoming 2015 season, it was the general consensus that Kevin Pillar needed to be on the Blue Jays roster and playing everyday. At the time, it was a debate between whether the club should keep him in AAA, on the bench, or platooning with Dalton Pompey. At the time, Michael Saunders seemed the left fielder and there was a competition between Pillar and Pompey with many giving the nod to the Canadian. But, baseball being what it is, things have sorted themselves out in Pillar’s favor. Actually, Pillar sorted things out for the Blue Jays. His play this season has earned him the CF job. Has he earned it beyond this season?
Immediately, folks will point to Pillar’s defense. It seems that at least once a week, if not more, we’re seeing replays of him crashing into walls, leaping in air and making spectacular play after spectacular play. And, on some level, we are still surprised. It all started back in April with his home run robbing leap against Tamp Bay that opened our eyes.
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And, we haven’t been able to blink yet! Night after night Pillar provides jaw dropping dives and leaps. Take Thursday night’s example:
That catch just might be his best one yet! Blue Jays radio man, Jerry Howarth said it is the catch of the season. It certainly is up there. But, Pillar is not just a human highlight reel. Well, he is partly that, but he is also solid at the center field position. He has not made an error all season when it comes to catching the ball.
Toronto Blue Jays
He has 2 errors, but those come from throwing. According to CBS Sports, Pillar ranks first among MLB center fielders with 300 putouts. Now, there seems to be some discrepancy between CBS and Fangraphs, who say that Pillar only has 294 PO. Regardless of which is more accurate, both sites have him ahead of Mike Trout in that category! NESN says his 9 assists, puts him in a tie for 5th place in the American League.
Not impressed? After all, put outs can also include lazy fly balls or otherwise easier catches, too. Well, how about this: As an outfielder (totaling all outfield positions played) in 2015, Pillar has put up a UZR/150 of 9.1. Trout? -2.2. He’s been worth a total of 16 DRS! Trout? Just 3. Pillar has had 8 fewer plays to work with, too (212 to 220). And, take a look at his Inside Edge fielding: Of the plays that are considered “Remote” (a 10% or less chance), Pillar has made 14.3% of those. The “Unlikely” plays? How about 80%?!
And, perhaps the term “unlikely” is quite apt when discussing Kevin Pillar. It might be fitting to describe his chances of being the everyday center fielder before the season began. Now, it would be unthinkable to not have him there. The big question mark was his bat. We knew his glove would play. Perhaps not this well, but we knew he could handle the outfield. But, the bat was the “X Factor”.
Well, he certainly is no Mike Trout with the bat, but he has proven himself to be serviceable. In 109 games, he’s slashing .264/.302/..377 with 7 HR and 39 RBI. He’s scored 53 runs, which is by and large a product of being on base when the big bats get up to the plate. Now, many will point to his very low walk total (4.9%) and lament his ability to “get on base”. And, that is fair. To an extent. But, look at his strike out numbers. He’s whiffing just 14.2%. In 430 plate appearances, he’s only collected 61 strike outs! He’s making 82.8% contact to go with a swinging strike mark of 8.9%. Kevin Pillar makes contact. He’ll put the ball in play. You would think this is not necessarily a good thing. What about the double play? Well, he’s hit into just 5 all year. With the right guy(s) in front of him, this contact hitter could be just what the doctor ordered. Oh, and he has 15 stolen bases, too!
Kevin Pillar came into the 2015 season with an outside chance of starting for the Toronto Blue Jays. When he finishes the 2015 season, he’ll have a great chance of keeping that job. His glove has been outstanding (I’ll wait to predict the Gold Glove Award), his bat has been an interesting fit. His total WAR is 2.1. So, what happens next?
The Blue Jays will head into the offseason with decisions to make. Ben Revere is under club control for 2 more seasons, Michael Saunders has a year of arbitration left. Dalton Pompey is waiting in the wings. Jose Bautista will be back. So, there seems to be an excess of outfielders. That might be a good problem to have for the Blue Jays. It certainly shouldn’t be a problem for Kevin Pillar as he has cemented his role as the Blue Jays’ center fielder, for this year and beyond.