Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar: 2015 Gold Glove Winner?

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A few days ago, I wrote about how much improved the Blue Jays’ defense is since they overhauled their roster at the end of July. They’ve rid themselves of several players who were costing them runs per game. To replace them, they now have players in position who can actually save them runs. But, one guy who has been there all season saving runs is Kevin Pillar. Ever since he served notice by robbing Tim Beckham of a home run, we’ve been privy to some other-worldly defense from him. After switching to the CF role full time, he has solidified himself as the favorite to win the 2015 Rawlings Gold Glove for CF.

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Before I go any further, it has to be noted that this is not a home town bias kind of post, here. I’m not suggesting that Pillar win the award just because he is a Blue Jay. Far from it. I’m going into this to see if he indeed deserves it. The first thing that comes to mind when undertaking such an examination is the highlight reel plays that we witness almost daily. Since part of the voting process of the Gold Glove awards come from opposing players and managers, they’re likely to remember all out dives, wall crashes, etc like the following:

Let’s start at the beginning. Now, you could say that this play was made while he was playing LF if you were so inclined. Perhaps, if you’re trying to make the case for someone else. But, I’m using it because it because it is what opened everyone’s eyes this year. And, it is the beginning of some magical defense.

Then, there is this one in Cleveland where he crashed into the wall to end an inning:

How about this one in Fenway to rob yet another base hit. This exemplifies the flying through the air, no “TV Dives”, all out effort from Pillar this season.

How about leaping and crashing all in one:

This recent one to steal a hit from

Miguel Sano

just might be the best of all:

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Think that opposing players and managers won’t remember these? Or, the several others that aren’t embedded here? Of course they will. Last year’s winner Adam Jones has some competition this year. But, video evidence isn’t enough. To satisfy the statheads out there, 25% of the Gold Glove voting apparently comes from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). So, now that I’ve impressed you with the eye test and have you leaning in Pillar’s favor, let’s see if the numbers hold up.

I went to Fangraphs.com and compared Pillar to other center fielders in the American League. Firstly, I wanted to be sure he had enough innings since he started the year in LF. His total of 843 innings puts him 6th in the AL. Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to it. Pillar is 3rd in the AL in plays (197), he’s also 3rd in BIZ (Balls in Zone) with 208. He is 2nd in OOZ (plays made outside of zone) with 78. Lorenzo Cain leads with 86.

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  • It seems that Pillar can get to balls that we wouldn’t expect him to. His range is quite impressive. His RngR (Range Runs Above Average) is good for 4th at 5.7. His UZR/150 rating of 9 has him 6th among qualified CF. Kevin Kiermaier‘s mark of 42.6 is tops. Pillar has been worth double digit DRS this year. He’s saved his team 10 runs. That is good for just 5th spot. Again, Kiermaier sits in top spot with an incredible 27.

    Before checking the numbers, I was ready to hand the award over to Pillar. But, now, it might not be such a given. There are some pretty good center fielders out there. But, to be honest, Pillar might just be the most exciting to watch. And, while the SABR folks will look to Tampa Bay or Kansas City for competition, the 75% of the voting that goes into the decision comes form folks who have watched and seen his defense in action.

    The stats don’t show you the “Oh My God!” factor, or the “No, he didn’t” reactions that come form human beings watching the game. Those inside the game loves to watch the kind of catches and plays Pillar throws down almost daily. 75% of the vote will come from those kind of people. The players and coaches don’t rely on numbers or percentages. They rely on what their eyes show them.

    For Kevin Pillar to win a Gold Glove in 2015, he might have to hope that his play sticks in the minds of the opposition long enough. If it comes down to a tale of tape and stats, Pillar might be on the outside looking in. Honestly, even after looking at his numbers, Pillar has a strong chance of bringing home the hardware. And, regardless if he wins, it is just simply awesome to be talking about a Blue Jay and a MLB accomplishment in the same sentence. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays know the value of having Pillar in CF. Now, we wait and see if the rest of baseball agrees.

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