Title: Kevin Pillar’s Breakout Appears Legit
Date: May 17, 2017
Original Source: Vice
Synopsis: For my latest at Vice, I wrote about the improved plate discipline of Kevin Pillar and whether it’s enough for him to lock down the lead-off spot.
In the fifth inning on Tuesday, Jaime Garcia made a mistake. Behind in the count after Kevin Pillar took a low changeup for a ball, Garcia missed his spot, grooving a 90-mph fastball right down the plate. Pillar promptly lined it over the left-center field fence to draw the Blue Jays within two runs. It wasn’t quite as substantial as his walk-off, don’t-soak-my-jersey home run courtesy a tougher Edwin Diaz offering in a 1-1 count two days prior, considering the Jays ultimately lost to the Atlanta Braves. It was, however, continued evidence that Pillar might not just be in the midst of a hot streak but in the process of proving himself a better offensive player altogether.
The home run gives Pillar 10 hits in his last six games, pushing him atop the American League leaderboard with 51 on the season. Four of those hits have been for extra-bases, underwriting a surge in slugging percentage he hasn’t experienced since Rookie Ball in 2011. More notably than even the power spike, Pillar has mixed three walks in during the last week, the most important change in his 2017 profile.
That change—one to a more patient approach, or at least a more selectively aggressive one—has him taking more pitches and taking better advantage of the ones he gets to hit. It’s one that’s turned him from a fringy and, to be honest, once unpalatable fill-in at the leadoff spot to someone John Gibbons will have to give serious consideration to keeping at the top of the order even when the team rounds into health (you know, IF they round into health).