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The season that was: Kevin Pillar

A look at Pillar’s 2017 season

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

After his first two full seasons, both of which featured great hot stretches and long terrible cold streaks, Kevin Pillar came into 2017 talking a good game about improving his ‘discipline’ at the plate. The subtext seemed to suggest that he wanted to be the Blue Jays leadoff hitter.

And he had a very good spring training, hitting .345/.406/.500 with 6 walks in just 58 at bats. Considering he had just 24 walks in 548 at bats in the previous season there was a lot of talk that his new approach was going to pay off.

Many of us were skeptical. I never believe a player when he says he’s going to reinvent himself at the plate. But, Pillar wouldn’t be the first player to figure things out at age 28. Many players have taken a step forward, with the bat, at that age.

When he had a hot start to the season, the press was full of stories about how his new found mental approach had changed his game.

.“He’s showing more discipline,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It was something he was conscious of in spring training. He’s always been an aggressive hitter, but he’d chase out of the zone any time he got two strikes.

“But he’s backed off of that and laying off that stuff. Once he gets (pitches) in the zone, he’s going to be a heck of a better hitter.”

As a general rule, I think writers, coaches, players should wait a couple for a couple of months before stating that a player has changed. Then again, I guess, there isn’t much wrong with pulling up one of your players.

As it turned out Kevin put up a season that fits with the rest of his career.

Year   Age   G  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2017    28 154 587 72 150 37  1 16  42 15  6 33 95 .256 .300 .404 .704   83

Baseball Reference had him at a 2.8 WAR. FanGraphs has him at 1.9 WAR, giving him a value of $15.5 million to the Jays.

There is definitely a worrying trend, his bWAR has gone from 5.2 in 2015, to 3.4 to 2.8 now. FanGraphs 4.3, 3.3, 1.9. It would be nice if he could turn this trend around.

He had a .302 wOBA and a 85 wRC+.

Kevin’s walk rate was up (5.2%, from 4.1) while his strikeout rate remained much the same (15.0% from 15.4).

Compared to 2016, his line drive rate was about the same (20.4% from 20.5), ground ball rate down a bit (43.1%, from 45.8) and fly ball rate up (36.4% from 33.9). More of his fly balls left the park (8.9% from 4.5). According to FanGraphs, he didn’t have a bunt single all season.

His BABIP was down a bit (.280, from .306).

Kevin was much much better vs left-handed pitchers (.336/.381/.559) than right-handers (.230/.274/.354). He’s always hit lefties better, but never to this extent before this year.

He was much better on the road (.271/.322/.434) than at home (.240/.279/.373). The opposite of 2016.

Kevin had a terrible time with RISP (.168/.218/.257). In 2016 he was very good with RISP.

His first half (.256/.306/.418) was slightly better than his second half (.255/.293/.385).

Pillar by month:

  • April: .301/.339/.505 with 4 home runs in 25 games.
  • May: .252/.328/.398 with 3 home runs in 26 games.
  • June: .212/.255/.337 with 2 home runs in 26 games.
  • July: .211/.253/.367 with 3 home runs in 27 games.
  • August: .293/.323/.402 with 1 home run in 26 games.
  • September: .263/.300/.411 with 3 home runs in 24 games.

It seems like April was a tease. He had 10 walks in May. He didn’t have more than 5 in any other month this year.

Defensively? He had a 7.4 UZR/150. That’s down from a 26.3 in 2016. That matches what my eyes told me. He didn’t seem to be as amazing with the glove. Instead of getting a highlight catch a game, we seemed to be getting 1 a week. I wouldn’t think that his defense should drop so much at age 28. I wonder if we will see a bounce back this year.

He only made 1 error (he had 6 errors in 2016) and had 8 assists. I’m curious to see how he does in Gold Glove voting. We’ll get to see if voters follow advanced stats or not.

FanGraphs has him at 1.0 runs better than the average baserunner. He was at 8.1 in 2015, but 1.8 last year. He did have 15 steals (caught 6 times) this season. I’m not sure why his baserunning doesn’t grade out better.

Where Kevin hit in the order:

  • 1st 58 games.
  • 5th 10 games.
  • 6th 30 games.
  • 7th 12 games.
  • 8th 35 games.
  • 9th 3 games.

Kevin’s longest hitting streak was 11 games. Longest on base streak was 16 games. The longest stretch without a home run was 18 games.

His favorite team to face? Kevin hit .368/.429/.632, with a home run, in 6 games against Royals.

Least favorite? He was 0 for 9 with a walk in 3 games against the Reds. Among AL teams, he hit .148/.179/.222 in 7 games against the Rangers.

Kevin did set a new career high in walks, with 33. And he also set a new career high in home runs, with 16. But his batting average has dropped the last two seasons. He’s gone from .278 to .266 to .256 this year. If that trend continues, it’s going to be hard for him to stay in the lineup in a couple of years.

Personally, I’d consider shopping him this off-season, though I’m not sure how other teams would value him in trade talks. If we could get a good pitcher, I’d be all for moving him. The old line about ‘trading a player one year too early is better than waiting one year too late’ springs to mind (though maybe it is one year too late now).

It is hard to trade a fan favorite, but then, you can’t let fans make your front office decisions for you.

Of course, I think that Pillar could have that one season where he puts it all together with the bat. He always does have hot streaks. He could have a season where the hot streaks are a little longer and run together a bit more.

I don’t think he’s suddenly going to develop a great eye at the plate, but I think there is room for some more power. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a 20 to 25 home run season somewhere along the way.

There are a few questions:

  • Do you believe the drop in the UZR is real or do you think it is a one year illusion and he’ll be back at the top of the league in defense next year?
  • Do you think the slight downward trend in offensive numbers will continue or do you think there is a good offensive season in his future?
  • Do you think Anthony Alford could put up as good a season as Pillar? And/or do you think adding Alford’s speed to the lineup would have a positive effect?
  • And, of course, do you think another team would offer something of value to the Jays for Kevin?

I have no idea what the front office is thinking. I guess we’ll find out as time goes by.