Pillar’s Incredible Catch Belies the Jays’ Underwhelming Defensive Numbers

On Monday, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a piece looking at the Minnesota Twins’ defensive improvements so far this season, which was centred around this terrifying graphic:

Jeff has provided us with somewhat of a crude measure here, simply taking the average of each team’s 2016 ranking in defensive metrics, UZR and DRS, and comparing it to where they rank by the average of their 2017 UZR and DRS so far. And, as you’ll surely notice, the Jays have appeared to have fallen off a goddamned cliff.


Cue dipshits raging cluelessly about stats! Because I think just about anybody who has been watching will tell you that, as bad as this nightmare start to 2017 has been — and, oh my fuck, you could hardly have imagined a start worse for these Jays than an inexplicable 2-11 just-barely-losing-every-night disaster to begin the season, followed by Donaldson, Tulo, Sanchez, Happ, and Martin hitting the DL over the span of about two weeks — the defence hasn’t really been so bad. Has it?

I honestly don’t think it has. I’ll go into a little more detail on that in a moment, but I think the Jays’ biggest problem here is likely a rather simple one which I’ll now overly complicate with words: these metrics require large samples before they become really meaningful (FanGraphs’ own explainer on UZR notes that “you should always use three years of UZR data before trying to draw any conclusions on the true talent level of a fielder”), and Kevin Pillar has had a couple balls uncharacteristically clang off his glove so far this season.

Pillar himself has “dropped” to 20th and 26th among centre fielders by DRS and UZR respectively, from 2nd and 1st last season.

This will not shock you, but Pillar was the driving force behind the Blue Jays’ strong rankings last year (8th by DRS, 6th by UZR). The Jays’ DRS as a team in 2016 was +28, and Pillar alone was worth +21. He drove their UZR by an even wider proportion: 21.4 for Pillar, 27.6 for the team as a whole.

You guys, I think Kevin Pillar is fine:

Pillar’s sudden “drop” in these rankings will eventually fade into statistical oblivion. He’s… uh… he’s very good. And as it does the Jays’ position on Sullivan’s graph will brighten.

Mind you, this doesn’t quite mean that the Jays are the exact same solid defending team as they were last season. Tulo’s 2017 numbers, for example, are behind his 2016 pace. Ryan Goins (sorry fanboys) has graded out worse than that. José Bautista is about in line with his poor defensive 2016 (or a shade worse). Steve Pearce is bad in left field (though surely no worse than Michael Saunders). Chris Coghlan has played too much at third base, and Josh Donaldson has played too little. Last year’s DRS totals were helped by a +6 from R.A. Dickey and a +5 from J.A. Happ (UZR doesn’t consider pitchers), which are obvious losses so far. And Justin Smoak has been a little bit worse so far, too — though neither DRS nor UZR adequately captures what are believed to be his biggest defensive skills, as they don’t consider a first baseman’s value as a target for infielders.

All told, though, apart from the Pillar blip, the Jays defenders are pretty much what we thought they were. Nothing to see here, folks. Except for that fucking incredible catch again…

  • Mule or etc...

    Last night the Jays broadcast team came down with Johnny Macitis and was falling over themselves to praise Ryan Goins’ hitting and I keep saying out loud, “What the hell are you talking about?” He’s only got a .274 OBP and a .659 OPS even after last night’s home run which lines up with his career numbers of being terrible.

    I guess scrappy white guys are still graded on a curve.

      • Mule or etc...

        A hyphen on my part would have made it easier but this comment system is an unforgiving mistress that only lives to spawn regret. I like “Ma-SIGH-tis.” Rolls off the tongue and sounds like an irritating skin disease.