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Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar: How to Get Him Out

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Jays Journal begins a series of analysis as to How to Get Hitters Out. To start, we look at a Blue Jays hitter who had a solid 2015 season- Kevin Pillar

2015 was a great first full season for Kevin Pillar. He proved that all he needed was an everyday chance to play. Coming in to 2015, it didn’t look as promising as it does now. While he had hit his way through the minor leagues, many were worried that his bat wouldn’t carry through to the big league level.

Well, it did. In 159 games, he hit .278 / .314 / .399 with 12 HR, 31 doubles and 56 RBI. It is safe to call his 2015 season a success. Granted, many feel that he needs to improve on his mere walk totals. Blue moons are more frequent than a walk from Pillar. He totaled just 28 all season. But, it isn’t as bad as you might think. According to Fangraphs.com, he only struck out 81 times or 13.5% of the time. Pillar is a contact hitter as evidenced by his overall contact rate of 83.2% and a rate that jumps to 90.1% on pitches in the zone. Certainly, putting the ball in play is a nice addition to this potent lineup. But let’s look at how to get him out.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

First, we should take a look at how he fared against certain pitches. For that, I went to BrooksBaseball.com. Right off the bat, they tell us that ‘against fastballs, he has some power, sprays the ball and has a below average tendency to swing and miss. He gets more aggressive against breaking pitches with similar results, though he’ll strike out more, but still league average. On offspeed stuff, though, Pillar gets even more aggressive and tends to take the offerings the other way, likely due to waiting back and identifying it.’

This aggression is backed up by the fact that he swings at change ups 64.42% of the time. Compare that to the fact that he swings at fastballs at just under 48% of the time and you really see the difference in approach. Pillar loves the change up. The problem lies in the fact that he “whiffs” at it nearly 21% of the time. Perhaps that indicates a still developing ability to identify the change. Oddly, though, this fact hasn’t made pitchers throw it to him more to finish him off. When he’s down 0-2, he’s only seen 60 change ups in hundreds of offerings. Still, when he does, he swings 80% of the time. The change also sees the highest percentage of foul balls from Pillar at 6.14% (8.33% down 0-2).

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The other pitch that gives him trouble is the slider. He’s seen it the third most of any offerings in 2015 and swung at it over 54% of the time. He’s whiffed on nearly 17% of those. When he’s down 0-2, he’s seen twice as many sliders as change ups with 22.31% of them for balls (compared to 18.18% strikes). He’s swung at them nearly 77% of the time with 17.36% of those swing resulting in whiffs. If you want to keep Pillar off balance, throw him a change up or a slider.

Oh, that slider? When down 0-2, he also grounded out 19% of the time on it. The change up resulted in a ground ball 16.67% of the time. But, if you really want to get him to ground out (like most batters), throw him a sinker. He’s hit a ground ball 12.27% and when down 0-2, he’s grounded into a 19.61% rate.

So, now that we’ve seen what to throw him, where do you throw it? Well, here’s a look (via Fangraphs.com) at where he loves the ball:

Pillar likes the ball up and in. That’s where you’ll see him swinging the most. If, you’re lucky enough to throw it so that it catches enough of the middle, he’s even more likely to swing. But, it only helps to swing there if he can actually hit it. Let’s take a look at where he makes contact.

Pillar will swing when it comes up and in, but he’ll also go after the exact opposite offerings. When he does, he misses a lot more. Pitching him down and away results in far less contact than up and in. While some batters cannot handle that high and tight offering, Pillar seems to enjoy it.

If you want to get Pillar out, you should probably think about firing some offspeed stuff (which he loves to swing at) and keeping it down and away (where he makes less contact). You can set that up with some heat up and in to make really mess with his eye level and timing. If you find yourself ahead on him, a well placed slider should do the trick.

If you want to defend against Pillar, take a look at where his hits went in 2015:

Really, the only time he went true opposite field was for one of his two triples. The bulk of his hits are going to come between center and left field. This is backed up by his 43% pull rate. He also goes to center 30% of the time.

Kevin Pillar is an interesting study. He is a guy who brings an aggressive approach to the plate and makes lots of contact. Pitchers should probably use that approach against him. His tendency to swing the bat at offspeed stuff can induce a ground ball, which is obviously key when there is a runner on. He hit into 9 double plays in 2015.

Next: Blue Jays Defense Could Dictate Next Offseason Move

Obviously, where he hits in the lineup might dictate what a pitcher does, as will the situation in which the pitcher faces him. It is likely that Pillar finds himself in the bottom third of the Blue Jays order in 2016. But, some might suggest that his contact rate may mean he could potentially lead off. His speed and base stealing ability might lend itself there, too. This might not be the time or place to debate his spot in the order. Instead, it is a quick look at how to get out a guy who uses contact as a major part of his game.

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