It seems borderline criminal that Kevin Pillar has yet to win a Gold Glove award, given all the highlights over the years. That should change in 2018.
There was a time when the Gold Glove award for outfielders was a lot different than how the system works today. These days, there is a specific award for players who have spent the majority of their time in centre, left, and right field. In the past, it was a free for all between all outfielders, which often resulted in multiple centre fielders picking up the award.
If things still worked that way today, there’s a good chance that Kevin Pillar would have 2-3 awards on his shelf already. However, he’s played in the American League, and even in the same division, at a time when there have been other elite centre fielders as well. The Baltimore Orioles have had Adam Jones patrolling centre over the years, the Red Sox have had Jackie Bradley (and Mookie Betts‘ outstanding defence in right), or Kevin Kiermaier in Tampa Bay, and there have been others like last year’s winner, Byron Buxton.
This season might finally be Pillar’s turn to pick up the award, assuming he remains either in Toronto, or at least in the American League for the rest of the year. With the Blue Jays falling out of playoff contention they are expected to be pretty big sellers this month, and while Pillar isn’t a lock to get traded by any means, there has been some speculation that he could be shopped as the team embarks on a bit of a rebuild.
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As long as he remains in the American League, and remains healthy of course, I would think he would be among the early favourites for the award. He’s sitting at a 0.5 dWAR according to baseballreference.com, and actually at the same mark on fangraphs.com, numbers that are down a bit from previous years. His career high on baseballreference.com for example is 2.8, and he posted a 1.9 mark last year.
However, the biggest difference maker for Pillar could be his competition, which was the reason that he wasn’t rewarded in the past as well. As I mentioned above, Byron Buxton was the winner in 2017, but he’s been hurt for a good chunk on this season. So far he’s played in just 28 games, and he’s really struggled to perform even while he has been on the field. He also hasn’t played for the Twins since May 29th.
Before Buxton was Kevin Kiermaier who hogged the award, picking it up in 2015 and 2016. He’s only played in 22 games thus far, and just returned on June 19th after getting hurt in mid-April. That didn’t stop him from winning the award in 2016 when he only played 105 games, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to overcome things in the same way this year.
Pillar’s biggest competition for the award this year will likely come from Mike Trout of the Angels, and Delino Deshields of the Rangers. Deshields has earned 1.7 dWAR in just 62 games thus far, while Trout has posted a mark of 1.0. Clearly I’m not blind and can see that both players are ahead of Pillar purely by the numbers, but this award has never been that simple. If it were, Pillar would already have one on his shelf, as there was a solid argument he should have beaten Kiermaier for it in 2016. There’s also the famous examples like Derek Jeter winning later in his career at shortstop, despite clearly not being the best defensive player at the position.
If voters are looking to recognize a greater body of work, as they often do, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pillar pick up some hardware for his defensive efforts. Signature catches like the one he made on Sunday stick out in voter’s minds, and it won’t hurt his cause at all.