For the past two seasons, Kevin Pillar of the Blue Jays has finished behind Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays in gold glove voting, despite a treasure chest of highlight reel plays.
At the beginning of the 2015 season, the Blue Jays had Dalton Pompey slated to be their every day centre-fielder, flanking an outfield that also boasted Jose Bautista in right field, and new acquisition Michael Saunders in left. As luck would have it, Saunders got hurt in spring training, pushing young outfielder Kevin Pillar into a starting role in left.
In case you’ve forgotten, Pompey struggled and was eventually sent to Triple A Buffalo, pushing Pillar to centre, seemingly as a temporary solution. Pillar hasn’t looked back since.
His bat has been acceptable at the big league level, but it’s been the all-world defence that has made Pillar a fan favourite in Toronto. “Superman” seemingly has no regard for the safety of his body, regularly slamming into the outfield fence or the Rogers Centre turf in order to make another grab. It’s always fun to take a look back (and see the look on Mark Buehrle‘s face again).
And of course, the catch that really put Pillar on the map when he was still a relative unknown.
With a slash line of .278/.314/.399 and a WAR of 5.2, Pillar was quietly one of the most valuable players on the Blue Jays roster, and maybe even in the American League. Quite a pleasant surprise from a player who had to fight to earn the 4th outfielder job during spring training of 2015.
Simply put, he’s one of the best defensive players in the game. The stats don’t account for everything he does, but take a gander for yourself:
The key stat to consider in the above table is Rdrs, or Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. According to this, Pillar has combined for 43 runs above average, over the last two seasons. That’s outstanding, and some might even say he should have been a shoe-in for the Gold Glove.
Unfortunately for Pillar, the MLB changed the way they award their Gold Glove awards, and now have one designated for centre field, one for right field, and one for left. If there were 3 blanket outfielder awards to go around, there’s little doubt that Pillar would have 2 on his mantle already. That’s not the way it works anymore unfortunately, which means Pillar has to compete directly with the rest of the AL centre fielders for 1 award. More specifically, Pillar has to take the crown from the reigning 2 time award winner, Kevin Kiermaier.
It’s hard to argue against Kiermaier’s candidacy, even for the most biased of Blue Jays fans. Here’s a peak at the same stats for Kiermaier.
Going based on the Rdrs metric, it’s easier to swallow the fact that Kiermaier won the award in 2015. As much as I hate to admit it, he probably deserved it.
I’m not quite sold on 2016, and probably never will be. It’s not that Kiermaier wasn’t excellent again in defence of his title, but he battled injuries throughout the year and only played in 104 games, to Pillar’s 146. Granted, Pillar had fewer assist and more errors, but his overall body of work was outstanding for the second year in a row as well.
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Kiermaier does come out ahead slightly in the newer metric, which among other reasons is likely why he won the award for the second consecutive year. To me, the metrics didn’t show Pillar playing through injury and the way he makes up for his defensively challenged outfield mates. The same could obviously be said for Kiermaier as well, but the knock against him would be playing in less than 2/3’s of the regular season schedule. He had to make a significant impact in short order, and he did just that.
2017 brings us Round 3 between the talented outfielders, and hopefully we’ll see a healthy campaign from both of them. It’s hard to imagine Kevin Pillar going his whole career without winning a Gold Glove, and perhaps this’ll be the year he can snatch the crown from his AL East counterpart.
Either way, the guy deserves an award for doing this stuff.