Blue Jays: Leading off has been good to Pillar

Apr 23, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run against the Los Angeles Angels in the 8th inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run against the Los Angeles Angels in the 8th inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Although the Blue Jays have largely struggled to start the season, Kevin Pillar is off to easily the best start of his career, adding tremendous value with the bat in addition to his gold-glove calibre defence.

There hasn’t been a lot that’s gone right for the Blue Jays this year, but that definitely hasn’t been the case for Kevin Pillar through the first 30 games of the 2017 season. The 28 year old has a .314/.357/.504 slash line with 4 home runs, 9 RBI, and 9 doubles thus far, and was the subject

His contribution with the stick was been a welcome surprise as most of his teammates have struggled through the first month. There was always hope that Pillar would make improvements on offence to pair with his gold-glove calibre defence, but I don’t think anybody expected this.

For anyone who follows the Blue Jays on a regular basis, you’ve no doubt heard, “Pillar has hit at every level he’s played”, which then leads to wondering what he could be capable of. He’s always had speed and a little bit of a pop, but he’s never been able to fully put it together, until now.

He’s managed to be a consistent threat at the plate, but the turning point was his move to the leadoff spot. The glovesmith was hitting .242 through 33 at bats, hitting anywhere from 7th to 9th in the order. After the move to leadoff? His slash line has been .341/.389/.591 over the course of 88 at bats, with all of his extra base hits coming from there, with the exception of 1 double.

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The California native had been given brief opportunities at leading off in the past, but this time he’s taken the role and run with it, becoming almost indisputably the most valuable player in the lineup thus far. He’s looked comfortable and confident, something we haven’t seen from him in that role in the past.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s had greater threats slotted in being him as the lead off hitter, as he’s mostly had Jose Bautista hitting second, a spot normally occupied by Josh Donaldson. Once the latter and Troy Tulowitzki return from the DL, it only lengthens the lineup and shifts a little more focus away from Pillar’s hot start. Teams know they’ll have some dynamite hitters coming after him as well, so Pillar should continue to get pitches to hit.

He’s been frequently aggressive at the plate as well, which has been a strategy that’s worked in his favour for the most part. Have a look at his splits according to the count in the at bat:

Oddly enough, he’s hit exceptionally well in 0-2 counts as well as when he’s swinging early in the at bat. Overall though, he’s looked to jump on an early fastball and so far pitchers still seem to be giving it to him. He’s also displayed a lot more patience at the plate as well if that at bat gets that far, laying off more breaking balls and generally swinging at more strikes. Arash Madani shared the excerpt below, which paints the picture of a player who is feeling more comfortable and confident in the batter’s box than we’ve likely ever seen him.

The former 32nd round draft pick has already earned 0.8 worth of WAR, a stat that he largely boosted with his defence over the last few seasons. With his new found confidence and role on the lineup card, it’s entirely possible that he would surprise the 4.9 mark he earned 2015. When you start getting into that ballpark, you’re talking about some of the most valuable players in the game. Heck, he was already voted the Blue Jays’ Honda Player of the Month for April, and that’s with currently sitting at -0.1 dWAR (don’t worry, that won’t last).

And the truth is, it’s probably not fair to expect this type of output to last from Pillar either, but there’s little doubt that he’s taken a step forward at the plate so far this year. Hitting in the leadoff position has been the spark that he needed, and he’s performed even better than John Gibbons and the Jays’ brass could have hoped.

Some folks would argue that it doesn’t matter where you hit in the lineup, but I would disagree. By moving Pillar into this role, he’s likely seeing more fastballs, and no doubt feels a sense of pride and responsibility to get the Jays’ offence going. He’s certainly done his part since being moved, and if he can keep up any semblance of this production, the Blue Jays may have found a long term solution to pencil in at the top of the lineup card.

Next: Blue Jays' Morales producing in big moments

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