Kevin Pillar is the guy to take over the leadoff spot in the Toronto Blue Jays lineup in 2016.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the Blue Jays lead off position and who will be there to take that role. Kevin Pillar‘s name has been thrown out there more than once lately. Is he the one or is there another choice that would be better? There’s a great case being made that he is in fact our guy.
Pillar had a stellar season last year. His defensive play became legendary, garnering him the nickname “Superman” for his consistently incredible flying catches. There has become little doubt in his defensive ability on the field, a definite Gold Glove candidate. What about his offence? Do those numbers say leadoff?
He set the NCAA Division II record with a 50 game hitting streak in 2010. By June of 2015 he was named player of the month when he batted .365 with five stolen bases and 18 RBI. The week of September 21st he was named Player of the Week batting .524 in that week alone. Pillar’s numbers for 2015 saw him batting .278 with 12 home runs, 56 RBI and 25 stolen bases. In the 2015 post season he batted .333 with one home run and four RBI.
With an on base percentage of .315, he has a 51.4 swing percentage with his contact percentage at 83.2. Having been pitched at 2262 times with 1568 being strikes, only 56.6% of those were fastballs. He posted 85 strikeouts. So if this is just by the numbers, Russell Martin and Chris Colabello have higher OBP values than Pillar.
Then there is Dalton Pompey. He had a good season in the MiLB and has the opportunity to break out this season. Ryan Goins seemed to find his bat late last season which helps his case, Devon Travis will be available at some point and could be considered. Of course we have Tulowitzki, who might find himself again in the leadoff position, one he is obviously not comfortable with. The answer might very well be that this decision will come down to more than just last season’s numbers.
Pillar is an all in player. He’ll literally bend over sideways to make a play. He’s been in Dunedin for a couple of weeks already to get a head start. Back that with the idea that the pitches Pillar would get as leadoff would be better having the likes of Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson and Tulowitzki batting behind him. It would increase his OBP while his ability to completely commit to the situation would do the rest. Again, it’s more than a numbers game. Buck Martinez, a veteran Blue Jays announcer spoke of this in an interview with Sportsnet just the other day.
He has been told his entire life he can’t do it and he continues to do it. Last year he was second on the team in hits, he had 163 hits, he steals bases, is a great base runner, he has tremendous instincts and what I said yesterday was, if you put him in front of all those bats he’s going to see some fastballs to hit, and I bet you he’ll be a heck of a leadoff guy.
This is a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular as spring training gets underway. Pillar himself is confident in his abilities to be the leadoff and has opened up about his desire to do so. He spoke to Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun about this at, funny enough, the Blue Jays Leadoff event.
I can definitely see myself batting leadoff,” said Pillar, who is going into his fourth year with the Jays. “But I think my mindset doesn’t change whether I’m hitting first or eighth or ninth or whatever they put me in the lineup. My job is to get on base, to score runs, allow the big boys to drive me in. But I definitely think I’d make a great leadoff hitter. I had success doing it in the minor leagues.
With his numbers last season, the way he completely throws himself into a game, and the heart he plays with, look to Pillar to lead the hitting machine that this team has the ability to continue to be. Just in case you needed a bit more convincing:
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Catherine Stem is a Blue Jays fan and writer who has combined both of these great things by writing for Jays From the Couch. Through all the ups and downs of baseball, all aspects of the game are explored. Keeping a close eye on the Blue Jays Triple A team, the Buffalo Bisons has also become part of her make-up.