Coming off a breakout 2015, how does Blue Jays CF, Kevin Pillar stack up against others in baseball?
Everyone loves Kevin Pillar. Exactly one year ago, we were questioning whether he would be able to handle the everyday starting job in the Blue Jays’ outfield. But, he responded by climbing a wall and grabbing the role and hauling it in. Now, anyone who doubts him would be laughed out of a room. With every dive, wall crash and highlight reel catch, Pillar became more and more entrenched in the future plans for this club.
His defense was certainly the calling card from which he earned the “Superman” nickname. As he progressed through the minor leagues, his defense was known to be good, but not like this. Not elite. Yet, in 2015 it was just that. If you look at the top CF in MLB, he’s right up there. Last season, he was 3rd in putouts with 404, tied with Mike Trout with 7 assists, and was 5th in fielding percentage at .995. Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier was 17th at .988. Pillar was also 2nd in range factor (MLB’s version) at 2.89- better than Trout and Kiermaier.
Taking it a bit further, Fangraphs.com lists his CF defensive metrics as follows: 14 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 16 UZR/150. For comparison, we’ll stick with everyone’s favorite CF, Trout and Kiermaier. Trout’s: 5 DRS and 0.3 UZR/150. Kiermaier: 42 DRS and 40.7 UZR/150. Here are some other comparisons:
Pillar’s 2015 defense would put him 2nd or 3rd best in all of baseball. Did anyone see that coming? Yet, what we really might be surprised about is his bat as he put together a solid season.
Offensively speaking, Pillar finds himself a little lower in the pack, but still in decent shape. By heading back to MLB’s sortable list, we see that he ranked 10th with a .278 average (better than Adam Jones), 14th in OBP (.314), tied for 12th in HR with Carlos Gomez with 12, tied for 6th with 31 doubles, 9th in runs (76) and 6th in stolen bases. This isn’t so bad for a guy who as in his first full season in MLB.
At the Blue Jays’ Leadoff Event, the other night, Pillar told our Spencer Redmond that he’s been working on his swing:
For me I think the biggest thing was working on better patterns with my bat. You know the education of hitting, the awareness of my body and what I’m doing in the box, when I’m swinging and working on my swing, I think it’s at an all time high. I’ve been able to reach out to some pretty good people, and some pretty good guys on our team, and have had the ability to hit with them. I think that’s a part I’m pretty excited to show off this Spring, and this year.
If his efforts pay off, we should see a player ready to improve on the above numbers. Ideally, you’d like to see him lay off outside pitches. As indicated by the image below (via Brooks Baseball), there is an obvious book on him and lots of pitchers have read it.
On the left, we see a heat map of where pitches are being thrown to Pillar- down and away and on the right we see where he’s swinging and missing- down and away. Recognizing those offerings and being able to lay off them will go a long way to 2016 success. In 2015, he swung at 40.9% outside of the zone. But, there are signs that it isn’t all bad. He had a 2015 swinging strike rate of 8.5% and a contact rate of 83.2%. That points to a guy who makes contact, which very well could lead to improvement in 2016.
The good thing about the book that is out on Kevin Pillar is that it is near the beginning. He has had a taste of big time success at the big league level and appears to be putting in lots of work to continue his progress. That is the one thing that we’ve heard ever since he was drafted: that he works harder than anyone. That hard work with the bat very well could pay off for him and see him climb even higher on the list of center fielders.
Right now, Pillar is an elite defender. He is among the league’s best in center field. Both the ‘eye test’ and his metrics prove that to be true. He’s more than a highlight now and then. He’s as solid as they come. His bat has proven that he can handle playing every day. With some adjustments, he very well could be better than middle of the pack.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.