Blue Jays: On Kevin Pillar, and leading off
Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Pillar continues to resurface in conversations about the club’s vacant leadoff spot, but he can’t yet be at the front of the line
Last night’s ‘Leadoff’ event at the Rogers Centre brought season ticket holders and media together with Blue Jays executives, manager John Gibbons and Superman himself, Kevin Pillar. Naturally, during an interview segment with Gibbons and Pillar, the possibility of him batting leadoff in 2016 came up once again.
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“To be honest with you, I see myself as a great leadoff hitter,” Pillar said. “I did it in the minor leagues. But the bottom line is, wherever they put me in the lineup, my job is to get on base. But I definitely think I’d make a great leadoff hitter. When you think of it, you’re only a leadoff hitter for the first at-bat of the game . . . after that, the lineup rolls over and everyone is out to do the same thing.”
“He’s got a shot,” Gibbons added.
But should he? Or is this a conversation that brought on more by the dog days of the offseason than logic?
Pillar’s speed and defensive highlight-reel do create an image of the ideal leadoff hitter in the mind. The issue, however, is the rate at which Pillar gets on base.
Now, a .278 average and .314 on-base percentage are by no means empty from Pillar in 2015. While the recently-departed Ben Revere has his own offensive holes, his .354 OBP last season is what this lineup ideally needs at the top.
What may be taking too great a share int he conversation here, though, is speed.
Keep in mind that, after Revere came to the Blue Jays, he stole just seven bases in 56 games. Ahead of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays do not need a leadoff hitter that can get from first base to second. They need one that can get from home plate to first. That’s it, that’s all.
Pillar’s speed is a great asset on both sides of the ball, but it’s not a tool that necessarily matters as much as it would on the average major league team.
This is why, if he’d ever agree to the role, even Jose Bautista could excel in Toronto’s leadoff spot. Michael Saunders is a possibility, too, though his career OBP doesn’t exactly tower over Pillar’s. Dalton Pompey will also be in the conversation, but that’s a big jump for the young Canadian who still is not guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster.
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Bridging the gap to Devon Travis is the likeliest goal here, and the man for the job continues to be someone like Troy Tulowitzki in that case. And no, a small sample size of an injured Tulowitzki in the wake of his life being suddenly uprooted and moved to a new country isn’t enough to sway me on that one. Not yet, at least.
This is by no means meant as a knock on Pillar. The greatest players to pick up a bat are still not many things. Kevin Pillar is a brilliant fielder with remaining offensive potential and a dream option towards the bottom of any lineup, but for him to enter the leadoff conversation, one of two things need to happen.
Either Pillar takes his 28 walks over 159 games last season and more than doubles it, or some unfortunate injuries appear ahead of him in the race for the top spot in the order. Until then, Kevin Pillar in 2016 should be an improved version of Kevin Pillar in 2015. Preferably at the same spot in the order.
Which, given this roster, is an absolutely beautiful thing.