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So, about Kevin Pillar…

What do you do with a one-trick pony that has lost his trick?

Before his rise to semi-stardom, Pillar was a four-A player in the Blue Jays organization. The player drafted in the 32nd round back in 2011 slashed .315/.353/.503 in 152 games between his two years with the Bison in 2013 and 2014. He was too good for regular reps down in Buffalo, but until 2015, he often struggled to stick on the major league team. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, he was demoted in 2014 after a June outburst in the dugout during a game against the Yankees when he objected to being pinch hit for in a tie game. At that point, it felt like his Blue Jays career was over.

There’s no question that Kevin Pillar is on this team now because of what he’s done patrolling center field at the Rogers Centre. His highlight reel catches on a seemingly nightly basis earned him the name Superman, and for good reason. In the two back-to-back ALCS years, Pillar often only trailed Kevin Kiermaier as best defensive CF in the American League, which earned him Gold Glove consideration. His combined 43 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranked third among all outfielders in the MLB from 2015 to 2016.

Pillar hasn’t reverted back to the form that couldn’t get him a job on shitty Blue Jays teams in 2013-2014. He’s just been the same this entire time, but with better defense. Back then, he was a guy that gave you elite fielding at a premium position on a good team offensively. His shortcomings were recognized but accepted because on a team that boasted Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista, you could afford having a black hole in the lineup.

But with the embarrassment of riches in the lineup now all gone, and declining defense in the outfield, it may be time for the Blue Jays to move on from Kevin Pillar.

As it stands, his .245/.274/.408 line looks awful even for the lowered expectations that you have for the center fielder. But when you take in the fact that he started hot, it somehow looks even worse. Since May 18th – or his last 317 plate appearances – Pillar has a wRC+ of 52, hitting .211/.233/.352. We’re now in Ryan Goins territory for him, and the defense – even if it was still at an elite level –  certainly doesn’t make up for it.

His DRS is currently in a free fall, and whether you look at numbers or him at the games, it’s easy to tell that he’s not the same person he was two seasons ago. Now not only could he not hit, he really couldn’t defend.

Of course, since we’re not savages and are baseball fans in the year 2018, we’ll also look at something like Statcast to understand this further. Statcast has an Outs Above Average stat, which is just like DRS. I’ll let them explain it here:

Outs Above Average (OAA) is the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. For example, a fielder who catches a 25% Catch Probability play gets +.75; one who fails to make the play gets -.25

In 2016, the first year data is available for, Kevin Pillar’s 13 OAA ranked tenth league wide. In the two years since? -1 and 1, respectively. Visually, you can tell that something’s amiss. Last year, he made some spectacular catches after putting himself in a bad spot with a terrible first step, but now he’s not even getting to balls at all.

Among the laundry list of problems the 2018 Blue Jays had this year, defense was one of them. As a team, their -47 DRS ranks them 28th league wide, leading only the Phillies and the comically bad Orioles.

Sure, Pillar could rebound and provide above average defense again someday, but we already know who he is with the bat. He turns 30 next January, and shows no sign of ever producing with the bat over the course of a full season.   A guy like that could be much better suited for a contender, and not a rebuilding team with a surplus of outfielders.

What makes all of this worse is that any chance of getting something of value in return for him in a trade is long gone. Both his fWAR and bWAR are currently at 1.4, which is around the mark for a role player. Is it worth the time to tender him a contract and give him consistent playing time with all the other outfield depth the team has?

There are only so many spots on both the 25 and 40 man rosters, and waiting to see if a 30-year-old returns to defensive form just to get something like an org guy for him doesn’t sound like it would help the development of the other young outfielders hungry for a job.

This will hurt because it will mean that yet another piece of those back to back ALCS runs are gone, but Kevin Pillar is no longer Superman, and it may be time that his Blue Jay story ends.

  • Steve-O

    I agree that it’s very likely (probably guaranteed) that he’s going to get traded this off-season, and that’s fine, but people better come to grips with the fact that the return will be paltry. And it always was going to end this way.

    To get out ahead of some of the folks here who have been thumping for him to be traded for along time now, the rub with Pillar has always been that his value to the Jays (durability, good defense and base running, a dependable guy you can run out there every day) was always going to exceed any value they could get back if he was traded. The notion that the Jays could net a MLB starting pitcher, for example, is and always was, ludicrous.

    I’m not happy about it, to be honest, but it is what it is. Time to let the kids get their shot. I’m looking forward to seeing what Alford can do.

    • Jroc

      I’m pretty sure this article isn’t about trading pillar, it’s about non-tendering him. This year he is at $3.25M, next year probably $5M? And if they keep him they probably DFA a player like weird Harold. I say let him go, It’s been fun, but its time

    • GrumblePup

      “Of course we’ll get nothing for Pillar now. If we had traded him years ago like I said we should have, we’d be fielding an all star team.” -AD probably

    • AD

      If jays were serious about competing this season (which it turns out they werent) they could have definietly traded Pillar to an NL team for a good reliever this past winter. I’ve been saying for years this guy sucks, how could so many fans be blind to this??

  • sparklenshine

    He will be back unless someone in the org. – with smith being the only org option – steps up and takes an outfield – there’s no free agent landing here, pompey is done and alford will get another shot in Buffalo to prove 2018 was a fluke, bad year. I do agree with the idea behind this article that a MLB calibre outfielder is necessary.

  • Hentgen

    Never was a big fan of Pillar. Always seemed a bit of a head case who refused to face up to what he was (which is why he could never improve.)

    If the defense is gone, then I’d trade him for whatever sack of balls someone offers. I don’t think he has any trade value whatsoever. He’d be gone already if he did.

  • AD

    I argued with 12 different bozos on here about pillar this past winter ( I wanted him dealt). “ooohh but he has 3 WAR” was the reply. Then this article comes out and people finally wake up and see what a shitty ball player this guy is. 4th OF at best.

    • GrumblePup

      The arguments with you were never about Pillar being some god like All-Star player beyond reproach. The argument was always that Pillar provided value to the Jays because of the unique position the Jays were in ( ie. a team full of mashers, so carrying a weak bat wasn’t as big of an issue because of the stellar defence he provided).

      The value Pillar provided to the Jays was only really value to the Jays. (and I really don’t understand how you can’t acknowledge that 3+ WAR is a positive).

      The problem then became that if the Jays traded Pillar, it created a hole in the roster that could only be (internally) filled by players with similar bats AND worse defence (so you know, a worse player). In order to replace Pillar, it would have meant trading other players to fill the hole and at that point you’re talking about tear-down/rebuild. And a tear-down/rebuild is no longer just about Pillar.

      You can say that a rebuild was needed. That’s totally fine. I personally don’t think a complete rebuild would have made much of a difference, but I totally understand and respect the opinion that it would.

      However, no matter what your stance on a rebuild is, you don’t start one just because you don’t like your centre fielder.

      But this is the main problem people had with your arguments: Pillar can either: a) not provide any value and therefore not get anything of value in return OR b) provide some value and therefore commmand something of value in return.

      You seem to have gone with ‘secret option c: Pillar provides no value but will net something of value in return’. And that doesn’t make any sense.

  • lukewarmwater

    Now pup does make sense with his posting regarding Kevin Pillar. I recall watching him about a decade ago in Vancouver and thought wow this guy was picked in the 32nd. round. I wonder what the Vegas odds were for this guy to make the majors as in those days he was a left fielder. Now even more fascinating Vegas odds would have been the chance of Pillar being the only drafted Jays to be an everyday player on the club for the past 4 to 5 years. As the regulars in here are aware , the Jays did deal off a lot of prospects, but many of them were pitchers and the every day players traded at best at this point are marginal in their development. Or to put it in simpler terms, the kind of guys the Jays will be looking for in the annual December bargain basement hunting. Nice posting, GrumblePup.

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    This is a good article. Well done Richard.

    He is not going to be traded because there is no reason for anyone to trade for him. Every other team can see the declined defence and the offensive problems. Would much rather have Grichuk starting in centre. What a great trade that was!. A reliever and a non-prospect starter for a starter with an .800 OPS.