This season, Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar was finally given his chance to crack the Major League roster right from the start. As one of the most exciting players on the field, Pillar would not disappoint with his day-to-day play, seeming to pull off one jaw-dropping play every single night. For Blue Jays fans watching only Toronto baseball on a nightly basis, you would think he’d be the front runner for the Gold Glove in center field.
As announced on November 9th, Pillar will not take home the award this season, it will be Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays. Some fans were shocked to hear the news considering the highlight reel of jumping and diving catches Pillar had made this season, but with a few simple metrics, it is clear than Kevin Kiermaier deserved this award.
The Gold Glove isn’t decided on offense at all, but lets have some fun and compare the players anyways. These two are almost identical at the plate, and eerily similar in almost every way. Pillar is the marginally better offensive player in almost every category including contact hitting, power, and base stealing. These players aren’t in the lineup for their bats, though, as both are average hitters across the board.
It’s truly amazing how close these players are! Other than their last names, there isn’t much difference in their offensive outputs. Both Pillar and Kiermaier, who are also just a year a part in age, are good enough contact hitters that one of them is bound to break out, and have an A.J. Pollock like season.
The argument here really lies in what both these players do on defence. The Pillar supporters will argue that Pillar was not only a dynamic playmaker in the field, but also very fundamentally sound. Especially since Pillar didn’t make a single fielding error all year, just two throwing errors which can be a tricky thing to score sometimes.
Baseball is simple, it’s all about saving runs, preventing the other team from scoring, is the simplest way to win more games. When looking at run stats, we typically say that 10 runs is equal to 1 win over the course of a regular season. Pillar’s defensive run saved this season was 22, meaning he saved a little over 2 wins himself this regular season, which is absolutely amazing! Kiermaier was nearly double the amount of runs saved at 42 this year! A lot will be made in Golden Glove voting about UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). Kiermaier benefits from having the superior arm, adding into the total calculation for UZR. Kiermaier’s ARM was rated 8.4 this year, to put that in perspective, the hard throwing Jose Bautista was a -2.5 in 2015, Pillar was a 0.6.
Some could argue that Pillar almost has better range than Kiermaier, and this is where this award decision get awfully close. In 2015 Kiermaier had 335 balls hit into his fielding zone, making 311 of those catches, while making 101 plays outside of his zone, for a .928 of a fielding zone rating. Pillar had 334 (1 less) plays in his zone, making 316 of them, making his zone rating a .946. Although those numbers aren’t vastly far apart, its the 24 more plays Pillar made outside his zone that helped him keep the race close.
At the end of the day, Pillar is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Although he didn’t take home a Golden Glove this year, he certainty will in years to come. This award went to Kiermaier, and for good reason. It came down to UZR and DRS to decide the vote, and when it comes down to such advanced stats, you know it was a close race in the end.