Jays From the Couch brings you the player Highlights & Lowlights from the 2017 season. This time: Kevin Pillar
Kevin Pillar became a full-time Blue Jays in 2015. Since then, he’s accumulated the 55th most wins above replacement among position players in the majors. He’s done so quite reliably, one of 52 major leaguers who have produced 1.9 WAR or more in each of the last three seasons. That he was the 979th player picked in the 2011 MLB Draft is just icing on the cake.
The highlight of Pillar’s year, as usual, was his defence— he finished tied for 12th in defensive runs saved (15). His final numbers were a little down from the past two seasons due to some early season struggles. His 50 DRS ranks seventh in the majors since 2015.
Here are some of his best catches from 2017.
He even made some modest strides forward on offence. Prior to the season, I was hopeful that he would show better patience at the plate. He entered the year with a career 4.2% walk rate and surpassed it, walking in a career-high 5.2% of his plate appearances. He even posted a career-low swinging strike rate (7.9%).
He also managed to increase his pop (career-high .148 ISO) without any effect on his strikeout rate (15%, in line with career norms). Going forward, the hope is that this wasn’t just driven by a career-high HR/FB%.
His use of a homophobic slur was the lowlight of the entire Blue Jays season. In response, he has worked to make things right and to create a future where such slurs are a relic of the past.
An on-the-field lowlight for Pillar was his baserunning. This year he posted an average sprint speed of 27.9 ft/s, above the league average (27 ft/s). He was tied for 119th among 451 major leaguers with a minimum of 10 sprint speed opportunities. Unfortunately, he used his speed inefficiently. In terms of baserunning runs per 600 PA, he ranked 185th (0.95 BsR/600 PA). For perspective, Josh Donaldson was able to turn his average speed (27 ft/s on the nose, tied for 247th) into an above-average contribution on the base paths (2.9 BsR/600 PA, 118th).
Overall, Pillar’s 85 wRC+ (matching his career-average) was a bit underwhelming, with Jays fans hopeful that he was capable of a league contribution with his bat. That said, part of his struggles appeared to be good, old fashioned bad batted ball luck. He posted career-high marks on xBA and xwOBA on batted balls and a BABIP 26 points lower than 2015-16.
Looking Ahead to 2018
Pillar’s place in centre field seems fairly safe for 2018. However, now entering his arbitration years, Pillar’s going to start getting more and more expensive. Projections put his 2018 salary at $4 million, which is still very good value for a guy good for 2 WAR per season. His future in the Jays outfield likely will come down to the growth of prospects like Anthony Alford, Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith Jr. Of course, he could push that conversation down the road some if he can lay down a .750 OPS for a season or two.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.