Kevin Pillar is already up to his old tricks on defence, making a sensational grab against the Orioles on Wednesday. The question is, should he be so aggressive?
Kevin Pillar has made a name for himself with his reckless disregard for his own body on defence. He’s been among the top defensive outfielders in Major League Baseball for the last two seasons, since he began starting on a regular basis.
Pillar finished the 2015 season with 2.8 dWAR, and did almost as well in 2016, finishing with 2.6 dWAR. Add the offensive component and Pillar was one of the more valuable players in baseball in 2015, finishing with a 5.6 overall WAR, and 3.7 last season.
There’s no debating Pillar’s value on defence. He consistently throws his body into harm’s way for the good of the team, and regularly pops up on the highlight reels. Someone with his skill set is bound to do that, especially with the type of aggression that Pillar brings on defence.
Pillar made his defensive statement in the second game of the season, robbing Manny Machado of an extra base hit, and possibly a home run, with a spectacular catch against the centre field fence. The ball was travelling at 111.1 MPR, which is… fast. Have a look for yourself, it’s pretty spectacular:
The question is, should the defensive whizz be more mindful of his body? If you ask the man himself, he’ll tell you his own philosophy in a hurry. In an interview with the Toronto Star, he said, “That’s what’s made me, and that’s playing with an edge and being super-competitive. To some people sometime, it’s playing a little bit reckless, but that’s just who I am. It’s understanding that I have to learn how to control those. There’s a time and place for them.”
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Music to the ears of every manager and teammate, a player who doesn’t know how to shut off the competitive nature. However, in Pillar’s case, it seems like it’s a matter of time before he doesn’t get up.
Take Wednesday night for example, Blue Jays fans collectively held their breath as Pillar lay on the dirt, taking a few moments before he got to his feet. It’s a scene we’re getting used to as Blue Jays’ fans, but the more you play with fire, eventually you’re going to get burned.
The same conversation has been had about other star players in baseball. The debate happened with Bryce Harper, who the Washington Nationals wanted to take “better care” of himself. Brett Lawrie and the Blue Jays had a similar conversation, as he injured himself on a few occasions with being arguably, overly aggressive.
"“That’s what’s made me, and that’s playing with an edge and being super-competitive. To some people sometime, it’s playing a little bit reckless, but that’s just who I am. It’s understanding that I have to learn how to control those. There’s a time and place for them.”"
The problem with Lawrie, Harper, and of course Pillar, is that these guys are wired a certain way, just as Pillar indicated in the quote above. As he mentioned, he believes that’s what makes his game stand out, and likely what got him a secure starting job in the big leagues. Turning that off means losing some of your identity, and possibly, your job.
As much as people want Pillar to be a little more mindful of his body on the field, it’s unlikely that he’ll change his game any time soon. Whether or not that’s good for his career trajectory is debatable, but so far, “Superman” has managed to bounce back up off the dirt every time. Let’s hope that doesn’t change any time soon.