2016 Blue Jays Season Review: Kevin Pillar

By: Jay Blue and @JaysGirlEmily

Blue Jays From Away

Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.

Kevin Pillar continues to supply the Blue Jays with outstanding, highlight-reel defence in centre field and is providing just enough offense to keep himself in the lineup. In 2015, Pillar’s breakout year, he was worth 4.3 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs, and almost all of that was due to his defense. In 2016, he was even more valuable defensively, with a 26.3 UZR/150 and 21 defensive runs saved (enough to make him worth two wins above replacement just for that) and has cemented his place among the league's best defensive outfielders.

With the bat, however, Pillar’s production fell off from his 93 wRC+ season in 2015. This year, Pillar hit .266/.303/.376, lower in every category from his 2015 numbers, hitting 35 doubles (up from 2015), two triples and seven home runs (down from 12 in 2015). He also added 14 stolen bases and was caught six times for a 70% success, also down from his 86% success rate in 2015.

Pillar still isn’t one to walk, taking a free pass in 4.1% of his plate appearances while striking out in 15.4%. The strikeout rate is low but it’s higher than it was in 2015. On the bright side, Pillar’s BABIP went down 15 points and his 12-point drop in batting average and 11-point drop in OBP can be attritubed almost directly to the BABIP. That said, the 12-point drop in ISO adds in with the lower batting average to give Pillar a 23-point-lower slugging percentage in 2016.

Pillar hits lefties better than righties, but not significantly enough to encourage a platoon. His .709 OPS against lefties was 41 points higher than his .668 OPS against righties but he seems to be more aggressive, taking only three walks in 149 plate appearances, nullifying his 22-point edge in batting average against southpaws and actually giving him a lower OBP (.302) against lefties than righties (.303). Looking further into his splits, despite more home runs on the road, Pillar was a far better hitter at Rogers Centre in 2016, posting a .765 OPS vs. a .596 OPS on the road in almost the same number of plate appearances.

Overall, Pillar still had 3.2 fWAR, providing all of his value defensively and creating runs at 20% below league average (with an 80 wRC+). As a defence-first player, he needs to keep opponents off the bases with his glove but, if the Jays’ offence isn’t a productive in 2016 as it was in 2014 and 2015, it’s a big question as to whether the club can afford to have the low production from their centre fielder.

In the playoffs, Pillar didn’t hit. He had three hits in 35 plate appearances, going 1-for-4 with a double against Baltimore in the Wild Card game and 1/12 against Texas with a home run. He was 1-for-16 against Cleveland with a stolen base.

Contract Status

Kevin Pillar fell just short of the cutoff for Super 2 eligibility for arbitration meaning that Pillar has one more year of the near-minimum salary before he’s eligible for arbitration.

Emily Says

Kevin Pillar’s 2016 season numbers were pretty close to his career averages. His average, .266, was one point lower, while his .303 OBP was identical and his .376 was slightly lower.

The always swing-happy Pillar averaged 3.64 pitches per plate appearance, and had a 15.4% strikeout rate. He struck out 90 times total, 74 of them swinging. It took him fourteen games to get his first walk, and his second didn’t arrive until April 30. He only took a base on balls 22 more times all year, with a season-high 10 in September – including two on September 30th.

Pillar batted .272 with five doubles, a triple and a home run in April. His average was only .225 in May, but he had a slugging rate of .351 with another home run and eleven doubles. In June, he hit .278 with five homers – including two on the 16th in Philadelphia – and then didn’t hit another for the rest of the year. He had an eight-game hitting streak in early July, hitting .300 for the month. He had 41 multi-hit games for the season.

His average dipped again in August, when he was placed on the DL for the first time in his career with a thumb sprain. After his return on the 23rd, he went 9-for-26 in his first seven games back. He batted .267 in September, and had a hot pair of games in Seattle where he went 6-for-8 with a double, a walk, two runs scored, an RBI, and two stolen bases.

The Jays played two games in October, and Pillar was 3-for-7 with a double and three runs batted in. On October 1st he had a two-run, game-tying single, then drove in the go-ahead run four innings later. In total, Pillar had 35 doubles (most on the team), two triples and seven home runs. He drove in 53 runs and stole 14 bases – twice as many as any other Blue Jay.

Pillar was worth 2.6 defensive WAR, fourth in the American League. He had six errors in 349 total chances, giving him a fielding percentage of .983. He also participated in two double plays, and made dozens of his trademark highlight-reel diving catches. He was nominated for the AL Gold Glove for the second year in a row, but was beaten out by the Rays’ CF Kevin Kiermaier.

Pillar played every game in the postseason and had only three hits – including a double in the wild-card game and a home run in ALDS Game 2 – for an average of .094. His lone postseason homer came as part of a three-HR inning for the Jays off Yu Darvish in ALDS Game 2, and he was hit on a pitch that was roughly the height of Pillar’s head.He struck out six times, walked once and was intentionally walked once; he also stole a base. He also was perfect in fielding over the postseason – 27 putouts in 27 chances.

Regular Season Grades

Jay: B-
Emily: B-

Postseason Grades

Jay: D
Emily: D