After a hot start to the season, it would appear that Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar has regressed, but it is not that easy.
In a number of ways , Kevin Pillar has been better in June than he was in April. It doesn’t seem that way but it’s the truth. I didn’t think so either until curiosity led me to delve into his stats a bit deeper. What I found was a textbook case of bad batted ball luck, not quite as bad as Devon Travis’ April, but close.
First, let’s take a bird’s-eye-view of this bad luck. In each graph, the blue line refers to Pillar’s results at the plate (10-game moving average of his weighted on-base average and batting average), while the red line refers to his underlying performance at the plate (10-game moving average of his expected weighted on-base average and expected batting average).
During the month of April, Pillar was a bit lucky, as his results (.301 BA, .360 xwOBA) ran ahead of his performance (.265 xBA, .320 xwOBA). In May, his luck took a turn for the worse, with his results (.252 BA, .318 xwOBA) running a bit behind his performance (.268 xBA, .336 xwOBA). His luck has gotten much worse in June (through June 27). His results were atrocious (.215 BA, .268 wOBA), costing him the leadoff spot that seems very important to him. On the other hand, he posted an xBA (.294) that comfortably surpassed his April and May marks and an xwOBA (.335) in line with his season-best performance in May.
This month, Pillar has been among the unluckiest batters in the majors. His BABIP (.240) is 16th-lowest (among all qualified batters). In terms of the Statcast luck measures, Pillar’s xBA-BA (.079) ranks first, while his xwOBA-wOBA (.067) ranks second (among 248 batters with 50+ AB).
Pillar’s consistently strong performances at the plate this season have driven him to the upper half of the Statcast leaderboards among his fellow centre fielders. Pillar ranks fifth in xBA (.273) and 11th in xwOBA (.329) for his position.
The contrast between Pillar’s results and performance is evident across a number of different stats. He has seen steady month-by-month declines in his batting average, on-base percentage, weighted on-base average and weighted on-base average on balls in play. Yet, the expected versions of each of those four stats suggests that April was his worst month, performance-wise.
His plate discipline each month has been more of a mixed bag. May was a great month for Pillar, as he walked at twice his usual rate and struck out a little less often. Comparing April to June, April saw fewer walks and fewer strikeouts, leading to an equal walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Pillar’s quality of contact stats reinforce the idea that he hasn’t regressed as the season has developed. This month, a smaller portion of his batted balls have been hit softly, while a similar portion have been hit hard. According to Statcast, June saw his highest rate of well-hit balls and his lowest rate of poorly-hit balls.
Obviously, I have to concede that games are won with results, not performances (a standard concession in posts like these). Nevertheless, performances are a better indicator of future results than past results are. My main worry is that this bad luck will get to Pillar’s head, if it hasn’t already. He really just needs to keep on keeping on and results should turn around for him. A Kevin Pillar producing as well as his underlying stats suggest he should be would be a dangerous weapon for the Blue Jays in the eight spot of the lineup.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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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.