We've seen this exact start from Kevin Pillar before
Whichever way you slice it, Kevin Pillar has been the best player on the Toronto Blue Jays this year.
The 29-year-old has more doubles than anyone in baseball, more WAR than anyone on the Blue Jays and has started every single game for the club at a premium defensive position. It’s safe to say that if you’re hitting .308/.344/.509 and playing defence like Kevin Pillar you’re providing a hell of a lot of value.
Slowly but surely, Pillar made made his way into the middle of the lineup and has been a steady presence there while providing 42.1 percent of the team’s stolen base total, including an epic three-steal inning back in April. The 2018 campaign Pillar is putting together is pretty unassailable.
There is, however, a pretty big “but” to all of this — and to be fair, there’s a pretty good argument to made that nothing that comes before the word “but” counts. This particular “but” is that we’ve seen this before, in an eerily similar way, just last season. Lost at times amidst the Blue Jays’ awful start, Pillar roared out of the gate in 2017 as well. Here’s a comparison between Pillar’s 2017 and 2018 on May 18:
Last year, Pillar’s fast start was slightly more driven by a better BB/K ratio and this year it’s had more to do with hard contact and gap power, but the differences are pretty minor. If anything, you might expect a plate discipline improvement to drive more sustainable success. That success was elusive for Pillar in 2017. After May 18 he hit an ugly .233/.275/.363 without carrying forward any of his gains in drawing walks or suppressing strikeouts.
This is not to say the Blue Jays centre fielder is doomed to a similar fate this season. Last year his excellent start was just a hot streak, this time it could be a more substantial change. For instance, the projection system ZiPS has his rest-of-season slash line at .275/.313/.426, which is better than his career average and numbers the Blue Jays would probably be happy with.
He may well exceed those projections. A more line-drive heavy batted-ball profile has undoubtedly improved his prospects, although that’s a statistic that has been a bit flimsy in the past. Whenever a guy’s production rests so heavily on his ability to hit doubles, that can look like good luck on balls in play. It’s too soon to render a verdict on exactly what’s happening here.
What we do know is that what we’re seeing isn’t unprecedented. That makes it slightly less exciting in a way, but the smart money isn’t on Pillar falling off the way he did last year. It’s a classic gambler’s fallacy mistake to think that he’s preordained to have a huge slump just because he had a sizzling start.
Even if nothing about his start holds up, the most likely scenario is still him performing at about his career averages from here. There’s nothing sexy about that, but it would make for a very successful 2018 for Pillar worth around three-and-a-half wins. Anything more is a bonus that both the centre fielder and the Blue Jays would happily take.
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