Blue Jays’ Pillar could end up with a 20/20 season

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: Kevin Pillar
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: Kevin Pillar /

After hitting his 10th home run and stealing his 12th base of the season on Wednesday night, Kevin Pillar has a shot at joining the 20/20 club.

It’s been an up and down year for Kevin Pillar, but he’s quietly putting together a solid season at the plate. The centre fielder started the year in the bottom half of the order, hit lead off for awhile, and is back in the bottom half lately. He flourished in the lead off spot for awhile, but he’s looked more comfortable since being moved back down.

Pillar has a solid skill set, and is often overshadowed by the powerful bats in the Blue Jays’ lineup. Yes, he’s been pretty inconsistent this year, but all in all he’s been a valuable player for John Gibbons once again. Thus far this season, he’s slashing .255/.308/.418 with 10 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and has earned 1.7 bWAR in his 82 games played.

As mentioned above, he’s had a tough time finding consistency at the plate, something he’s battled with since moving to baseball’s highest level. However, when you look at the total package, he’s been quite valuable, as evidenced by the 1.7 WAR.

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Ideally, a guy like Pillar would find a niche for himself on offence, the same way that he has as “Superman” in the outfield. At this point in his career, he’s known for his wall-crashing grabs, and for throwing his body into harm’s way. He’s carved out an excellent reputation by doing things like that, but he’s also expressed a desire to put things together with the bat as well.

For awhile this year it looked like he might have found his role, as he was the club’s best hitter in April, and did a tremendous job hitting at the top of the lineup in the absence of Devon Travis. He was patient and attacked quality pitches, something that’s changed a bit as he struggled through the month of June.

His batting average has come back down to earth, as he went from a .301 mark in April, to just .212 in the month of June. Have a look at his month to month splits:

As you can see, things have steadily declined in the batting average and OBP categories. He’s started off the first handful of games in July looking good at the plate, so hopefully he can continue that throughout the month.

What’s interesting is how his stats line up after 82 games played, and how he projects to finish out the season. The Blue Jays sit at 39-45, having played 84 of their 162 games thus far. With a little less than half of the season remaining, Pillar has an outside shot at joining the elusive 20/20 club.

The Blue Jays have had a few players reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Jose Canseco did it in 1998 by hitting 46 bombs and swiping 29 bags. Jose Cruz Jr. also accomplished the feat in 2001, hitting 34 home runs and stealing 32 bases. Raul Mondesi joined Cruz Jr. in 2001 as well, finishing with 29 home runs and 30 stolen bases. The Jays haven’t had a player hit the mark in 16 years (no, neither Vernon Wells or Alex Rios pulled it off. I thought they had too).

Pillar is likely a long shot to reach 20 home runs, but he’s got an outside shot at hitting the mark, assuming he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season. His career high is just 12, which he reached in 2015, but with already 10 in the bag it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could take a run at it. He seems like a good bet to pick up another eight stolen bases as well, though he’s only two swipes away from matching the mark he reached last year.

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For as frustrating as his performance has been lately, the 28 year old has had a solid season when you look at the total package. The only lineup regular who has earned more WAR is Justin Smoak (he’s at 2.5 bWAR), so he’s bringing a lot of value, regardless of how much he struggled in June.