The Blue Jays have started Kevin Pillar in the leadoff spot 17 times this season
Kevin Pillar hit atop the Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup in all three games against the San Francisco Giants this week, going a combined 1-for-15 with a walk and two strikeouts.
After losing the leadoff job outright to Michael Saunders, manager John Gibbons has since begun to fine-tune the roster with a little more frequency, bouncing Pillar back up to the top spot with left-handers on the mound or when Saunders’ hot bat is needed closer to the middle of the order.
The (far too early) splits continue to show, however, that Pillar’s bat is performing much better in the bottom half of the Blue Jays lineup.
Batting 1st: .194 / .236 / .292
Batting 7th: .429 / .500 . / .762
Batting 8th: .385 / 407 / .423
Pillar has also hit from the six and nine spots (five games combined) with better results than his leadoff stats, but the seventh and eighth spots in the lineup represent his ideal “bottom half” role. These allow Pillar to hit, but also to push the envelope on the bases with some combination of Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, or Josh Thole hitting behind him.
His career stats do just narrowly show a stronger hitter against left-handed pitchers than right-handers, but not by much. This season’s numbers have been slightly further apart, with his OPS against lefties .062 points higher than against righties.
Michael Saunders is going to need days of regular rest. Doing so will greatly improve the Blue Jays’ chances of keeping him healthy throughout the season and into October. His numbers against left-handed pitching this season are strong, though, specifically his slugging percentage, so tinkering with Pillar in the leadoff spot in those specific games may not be creating the advantage it’s hoped to.
What’s the alternative, though, when Saunders is out of the lineup?
Well, without moving Troy Tulowitzki back up in the order (unlikely) or promoting Dalton Pompey (unlikely without an injury), the only other option until Devon Travis returns is giving Ezequiel Carrera a look atop the lineup when he starts in left field with Pillar staying back to hit seventh or eighth.
Carrera is 9-for-19 in four starts batting leadoff this season, but for his career, those numbers are much more pedestrian with a .230 average and .289 on-base percentage.
With Pillar streaking at the bottom of the lineup, though, it’s an option worth exploring for the Saunders off-days to allow Pillar for some consistency. Carrera atop the lineup isn’t a proposition I expect any level of excitement for, but given the number of games it would actually be part of the conversation, the results of the move won’t impact the team a significant amount.
If doing so can help Pillar, though, there’s value. His current leadoff stats aren’t nearly a large enough sample to draw hard conclusions from, but without a history of success in that spot (or a history of a high on-base percentage), continually returning him to that role doesn’t come with the promise of improved results.