Kevin Pillar has never received the respect he deserves as a hitter in the big leagues. Understandably so, his career average is nothing too crazy (.267), but something Pillar hopes to prove this year is that he’s much better offensively than what he’s shown so far during his time in the big leagues. Pillar has become such a vital part of the Blue Jays defense that many people fail to realize that in 413 minor league games, Pillar hit for a .324 AVG with a .367 OBP. Going even further back, prior to being drafted by the Blue Jays in 2011, he hit .367 during his four years playing collegiate baseball at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Given Pillar’s solid offensive statistics that he put up prior to playing in the majors, who’s to say he can’t get back to that kind of hitter now? Not that these sort of comparisons are completely fair, but Devon Travis hit for an impressive .317 AVG over three seasons in the minor leagues, seven points lower than what Pillar was able to hit in the minors. In the big leagues however, Travis has a career .301 AVG compared to Pillar’s .267. Why such a difference between two players from one level of ball to the next? Well, there’s only so much a young player can work on after they become a regular in the big leagues where they constantly find themselves having to adjust in an effort to improve and keep pace with the extremely high level of play they’re now facing. Not that I’m trying to make excuses for Pillar, but because he’s been such a key component defensively for the Blue Jays, his first priority when trying to make the club back in 2015 seemed to be to establish himself as an elite defensive player. Now that he’s content with where his defensive game is at, it appears he’s now focusing on what he can do to improve the offensive side of his game, and work towards being a more complete player.
For someone who only strikes out 15% of the time, Pillar’s career OBP of .303 is far too low. Since becoming a starter two seasons ago, his approach at the plate can be defined as a player who hits for a decent amount of contact, but who’s far too much of a free swinger and could benefit from being more selective at the plate. Pillar knows he’s a much better hitter than what he displayed last year. At the beginning of the 2016 season, the Blue Jays experimented with him in the lead-off spot and although an interesting idea at the time, it didn’t work out for the best and Pillar was back down at the bottom of the order where he seemed much more comfortable. In 21 games batting lead-off last season, Pillar hit .198…this compared to the .279 AVG when hitting anywhere else in the order.
With Devon Travis’ ongoing health issues and the uncertainty of who will be playing in left field, a lot of doubt still remains as to who the Blue Jays will insert into the lead-off spot to begin the 2017 season. And please don’t say Jose Bautista, because that idea is almost as bonkers as all the talk from last year of moving our best starting pitcher to the bullpen right when Toronto was in the midst of a heated playoff race. If the Blue Jays were to try Pillar in the lead-off spot again, he has to adjust his approach at the plate. Which should include being more selective with the pitches he swings at, drawing more walks, and working to improve his on-base percentage. The good news is that Pillar seems to understand this. So far this spring, in limited action, he’s walked in 14% of his at-bats. A huge improvement over the 4% of the time he walked last season, and hopefully a trend he can carry into the regular season.