I have an odd habit that I developed roughly 25 years ago. I read box scores. Really read ‘em. Read the heck out of ‘em. Pore over every character the way someone with a better mind might pore over Dostoyevsky.
I do this for all teams, but I really do it for the teams I follow. I get to studying those box scores. Really studying them.
The fun part, for me, is seeing the story within the story. Temporarily suspending the fact that there are better ways to measure baseball success than box score stats, there’s something simultaneously joyous and cathartic in seeing how a player performed over two and a half hours placed directly next to how they’ve performed over the course of the season.
Your expectations are tempered after a player has a 3-5 game with a dinger when your eyes scan across the screen and see that their slash line is cluttered with 1s, 2s, and 3s. Similarly, that roaring beast of optimism is fed breakfast when you realize that, whoa, this player really must be stringing together a lot of 2-4 games, because suddenly their season numbers are really good!
Which leads us to Kevin Pillar.
Pillar has had perhaps more memorable moments this year than any other Giant. There was a grand slam one night, and a three-run double the next. His four home runs is tied for the team lead, and his 13 RBI is comfortably the most on the squad.
And yet every time my eyes flit across the Giants box scores, I’m astonished to see that Pillar’s slash line - despite whatever heroics he mustered - is up to its chaps in quicksand, permanently mired in the land of bad, bad, not good.
Now, much of this is due to his frosty numbers to start the year with the Toronto Blue Jays, but it’s not like crisp, foggy air and perfectly crusty sourdough bread is responsible for Pillar’s hits. The 1-for-16 line with Toronto is as meaningful in evaluating Pillar as the four rocket-launched long balls with the Giants are.
Which is how, despite the positive associations you may currently have with the centerfielder’s name and the things he’s done since Farhan Zaidi acquired him, Pillar’s slash line is just .180/.197/.410.
His wRC+ for the season is just 46 (meaning he’s been 46% of league average), which puts him behind mega sluggers Gerardo Parra, Joe Panik, and Evan Longoria.
Kevin Pillar is not a good offensive player. 400 words later, that’s what I was trying to say.
Even if you focus solely on his stint in black and orange, the returns probably aren’t as good as you thought. He’s slashing .222/.245/.533, with an on-base percentage that trails only Longoria for everyday Giants players. His wRC+ is 92, serving as a painful reminder that, even with the constant highlights, he’s been a sub-par hitter.
That’s not to take away from what Pillar has done. Luck, variance, and predictive stats all pale in comparison to what actually happens - that’s why we watch. Take away what Pillar’s done this year and the Giants surely lose a game or two more, already.
But he has 13 runs batted in, despite reaching base just 11 times. That’s 1.19 RBI for every hit + walk! To put it in perspective, for his career, Buster Posey has 0.37 RBI for every hit + walk.
Pillar has been a good player for the Giants. Reports of his defensive demise appear to be a little premature, and his hitting has been good enough for his position. In the words of a reader who I can only assume is one of my biggest fans, “If you can’t see that Pillar is winning for the team by himself, then, well, you haven’t been around baseball very long.”
The great moments are great, and deserve to be celebrated and remembered as such.
Just don’t expect them to come knocking all that often, or to be propped up by many moments that are merely good.