It’s been a few years now where Blue Jay fans have got to enjoy Kevin Pillar and his spectacular defense…most notably those superman-style diving catches that never seize to amaze. As wonderful as Pillar’s defense has been since he became a starter in 2015, sadly he’s yet to win a gold glove, losing out the past two years to Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays.
When it was announced after the conclusion of the 2015 season that Kiermaier had beat out Pillar for the gold glove, I immediately thought he’d been robbed. How could a player who made so many highlight reel catches, combined with so few errors not win. But after taking a closer look at the numbers and comparing Pillar and Kiermaier’s defensive statistics, it became pretty clear that Kiermaier was the rightful winner. Most years, Pillar’s 2.8 Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) would have earned him a gold glove, but Kiermaier’s ridiculous 5.0 dWAR in 2015 just happened to be the highest ever recorded by an outfielder.
Prior to 2011, the gold glove for outfield was awarded to the top three outfielders in each league, regardless of whether they played left field, center field, or right field. What this led to was that most years the award would often go to three center fielders. These days however, with one gold glove awarded to each position in the outfield, it makes things that much more difficult for a player like Pillar to win one. If the old system of awarding three gold gloves to the three best outfielders was still in place, there’s no doubt Pillar would have won in both 2015 and 2016.
With the new rules of only awarding one gold glove to the best center fielder in the American League, as deserving as Pillar might seem to be, it’s going to be extremely difficult for him to win, especially with a player like Kiermaier dominating that position like is. I think Major League Baseball got it right in 2011 when they decided to award one gold glove for each position in the outfield, it’s only fair. That being said, to think that Pillar didn’t win a gold glove this season when a left-fielder with a pea-shooter for an arm, who’s responsible for covering a fraction of the outfield that Pillar is responsible for doesn’t seem completely fair either.
When I think back to the great center fielders of my childhood, it’s insane how many gold gloves some of these players won. With the exception of a small number of gold gloves won by the few elite right or left fielders, the vast majority of gold gloves awarded in the 90’s and early 2000’s went to center fielders. Leading the way were Ken Griffey Jr. (10 gold gloves), Andruw Jones (10), Torii Hunter (9), Jim Edmonds (8), Devon White (7), Steve Finley (5), Bernie Williams (4), Kenny Lofton (4), and Mike Cameron (3). These were all wonderful center fielders (some of the best ever actually), but if these same players were playing today, with only one center fielder in each league being awarded a gold glove, these players would have won far fewer gold gloves. It’s hard to believe that a player as strong defensively as Pillar may be lucky if he ends up winning a single gold glove over his entire career…but that shouldn’t take away from how great a center fielder he is, nor does it change the fact that he’s still the second best defensive outfielder in the game today.