In 2015, Kevin Pillar won the left field job out of spring training, in large part because of Michael Saunders blowing out his knee. About a month in, he took over center field when Dalton Pompey had some troubles with the position, and Pillar held it through the season.
His bat ran hot and cold, but his glove was incredible. Every game he seemed to make another highlight reel style catch. He was so much fun to watch in the field, that we could put up with the cold periods on offense. And, we had enough offense from the other guys in the lineup that we could live with what ever he could give us.
He came into the 2016 having a job. I wondered if having a full season behind him would help his bat.
Year Age G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 2016 27 146 548 59 146 35 2 7 53 14 6 24 90 .266 .303 .376 .679 81
Baseball Reference had him at a 3.4 WAR (down from 5.2 in 2015). FanGraphs had him at 3.2 (down from 4.3), giving him a value of $25.8 million to the Jays.
Kevin didn’t have a good time in the playoffs. He hit just .094/.143/.219, with 1 home run and 2 RBI.
Pillar had a .295 wOBA and a 80 wRC+.
Compared to 2015, his walk rate was down (4.1%, down from 4.5) and his strikeout rate was up (15.4%, up from 13.5).
His line drive rate was down slightly (20.5% from 21.9), ground ball rate up (45.6%, from 41.4) and fly ball rate down (33.9, from 36.7). Fewer of his fly balls left the park (15.6%, down from 17.7).
His BABIP was the same as in 2015, .306
Kevin was slightly better against LHP (.283/.302/.407) than RHP (.261/.303/.365).
He was much better at home (.301/.333/.431), than on the road (.233/.274/.323).
He was very good with RISP (.324/.361/.491).
Pillar was slightly better in the first half of the season (.268/.299/.401), than the second half (.264/.310/.333). He had 7 home runs in the first half, and none in the second half.
Kevin by month:
- April: .272/.309/.380 with 1 home run and 7 RBI
- May: ..225/.250/.351 with 1 home run and 10 RBI
- June: .278/.304/.472 with 5 home runs and 16 RBI
- July: .300/.340/.367 with 0 home runs and 12 RBI
- August: .240/.255/.320 with 0 home runs and 1 RBI
- September: .278/.343/.330 with 0 home runs and 7 RBI (and 10 walks, he only had 14 the rest of the season)
Kevin hurt his thumb sliding into second base on August 8, and went on the DL. That’s likely part of why the power disappeared in the second half.
Defensively, he was great once again (though not good enough to get him a Gold Glove). Fangraphs has him at a 26.3 UZR/150, even better than last year’s 16.0 in CF. He did make 6 errors, for a .983 FA, slightly worse than the league average in CF. He had 6 outfield assists. He doesn’t have an overly strong arm, but he has incredible range.
FanGraphs has him at 1.8 runs better than the average baserunner, down from 8.1 last year. He had fewer steals than last year, (14, down from 25) and was caught stealing more often (6, up from 4).
Pillar’s longest hitting streak was 8 games, longest on base streak was 10 games.
His favorite team to play? Kevin hit .385/.400/.720 with 1 home run and 4 RBI in 7 games against the Tigers.
His least favorite? He hit just .063/.063/.063 in 4 games against the Astros.
Kevin is so much fun to watch on defense. I expect everything hit to center field to be caught, so much so that I feel let down the time that he doesn’t get to a ball. Since we lost the ability to pound opponents, he was a very important part of our pitching and defense team.
We’d love to see a little more discipline at the plate. We’d love to see a few more walks (more than one a week would be nice) and a few less strikeouts. I don’t know how likely that is, I think it is more likely that he adds a bit more power as time goes on, but likely not enough to make him a big threat at the plate.
He’s 28 next year, I think his glove will be good enough to carry his bat for a few more years. If I was going to compare him to someone, it would be Garry Maddox, who was the center fielder for the Phillies in the mid-70’s to mid-80’s. Ralph Kiner said "Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the other one-third is covered by Garry Maddox." That would be a good description of Pillar.
Maddox also wasn’t a great hitter, though he had some good years and was a better base stealer than Pillar, but it was his glove that kept him in the majors. Maddux was a full-time center fielder until about age 32 and then spent four more seasons playing part time (he broke into the majors at a younger age than Kevin did). I could see the rest of Pillar’s career going much like that, his glove being good enough to keep him in the everyday lineup until he’s 32-33 or so, and then some part time seasons.
A couple of years ago I would have thought it was sacrilege think that someone could challenge Devon White for best defensive center fielder in franchise history, but give Kevin another good year or two and we can debate whether White or Pillar was better with the glove.
Actually they are fairly comparable on the offensive side too. White’s career batter line, .263/.319/.419, Pillar .267/.303/.385. Of course, that was after a 17 year MLB career, Pillar is just 4 years into his career. And Pillar should be coming into his prime as a batter, so he has time to make up the 51 point difference in OPS.
Whatever happens, over the rest of his career, Pillar had given us many many great moments on the field. Here is a video of some of his best catches over the past two years.