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.
Last year Kevin Pillar hit .256/.300/.404 with an 83 OPS+. Not the numbers stars are generally made of.
Early in the season many believed Pillar had turned the corner. Through April he hit .301/.339/.505 and despite a less productive May (.252/.328/.398) Pillar seemed to be a lock as the Jays lead-off hitter.
Then the incident happened. And by incident I mean the time Pillar yelled a homophobic slur at Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte, triggering a wave of condemnation and press reaction from sports and non-sports media far and wide, as well as a two-game suspension.
Pillar’s homophobic outburst happened on May 17 and at the time he was hitting .305/.357.498 and enjoying the best start of his career. In the ten games following the suspension his batting average was only .154. By the end of May he was batting .277/.333/.451 and by June 30 his OPS had dropped significantly, down to .698 from a high of .874 on May 16.
It’s hard to know for sure if the firestorm he created caused his performance to drop or if he was simply regressing to his normal below-average-hitting self. It could be a combination of factors but as far as approach goes, there’s a clear problem. He loves to swing at everything, especially at bad pitches out of the zone. Even worse: how often he put them in play for easy outs.
Last August, Mario Puciuc at Fangraphs looked at both Pillar’s chase rate as well as his whiff rate. Puciuc found Pillar connected with an impressive number of bad pitches outside of the strike zone. As of August 18 he ranked 20th in soft contact, largely because of a low whiff rate on bad pitches.
Sometimes he gets lucky. Most famously in the 2016 playoffs when he hit a double to tie the 2016 Wild Card game. According to August Fagerstrom that hit was off a pitch that was the “10th-highest height-adjusted pitch that went for a hit out of 382,450 hits in the PITCHf/x era.” So, this isn’t a new problem.
Pillar will almost certainly be patrolling center field for the 2018 season. But if his defensive numbers decline again this year (21.6 UZR in 2016, 6.0 UZR in 2017) and his hitting approach doesn’t change, he may be out of a job sooner rather than later.
Pillar is in his first year of arbitration eligibility. He will make $3.25 million this year and is under club control through the 2020 season.
2017 Regular Season Grades
Jay Blue: B-
Wesley James: C+
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