Earlier in the San Francisco Giants season, when they
had much more hope were just as obviously mediocre as they are now, I wrote a precautionary article about Kevin Pillar.
The premise was basically this: Yes, Pillar seems to hit a home run every time the team needs one, but that’s clouding our judgement, and his hitting hasn’t actually been very good. Timely, yes, and that obviously counts for something. The game is played descriptively, not predictively - but the next game is always player predictively. And the one after that. And the one after that. And . . .
So now here we are, a few months later, and everything is on course. The concept that Pillar was not a particularly good hitter was not exactly news. I may be a genius, but my discovery of Pillar’s mediocrity is not proof of it. In his seven-year career, Pillar’s best single-season OPS is .713, which, if you’re new to stats, hey, hi, welcome, that number is not good.
But his season is still weird and funny. If you pay a Goldilocks amount of attention to the Giants - not too much, not too little, but juuuust right - you could easily think Pillar is having a grand season. Tune in at the right times and you might see him hit a home run when seemingly no one else on the team can. You might see him knock a single up the middle when the Giants haven’t had a baserunner in an hour.
But tune in at the wrong times and you might see something else. I won’t describe it, because you’ve spent enough of this season following a rough team. You don’t need any more. I’ll spare you.
That dichotomy - mixed with the fact that Pillar has been an indestructible and reliable player on a team that hasn’t seen those traits in a long time, and thus plays more than most - has created an interesting statistical situation.
Or maybe it’s not interesting. I don’t know. It’s interesting to me.
Check out Pillar’s rankings in three basic counting stats - hits, home runs, and RBI - and two advanced stats - weighted runs created plus, and weighted on base average.
Kevin Pillar Team Ranks
Pillar has been the Giants best player in terms of hits, home runs, and runs batted in. Far from infallible stats, to be sure, but you don’t expect a team’s leader in those categories to be its 12th best hitter. The Los Angeles Dodgers leader in those three categories, for instance, is unequivocally their best hitter.
Now, 12th-best hitter on the team is a little unfair, since that doesn’t have qualifiers for plate appearances. But even if you eliminate players with 100 or fewer plate appearances, Pillar is ninth on the team in wRC+ and wOBA.
It takes a perfect storm for a player to lead a team in hits, home runs, and RBI, without even being one of their eight best hitters. It takes being good in the right ways and quite bad in the right ways, and it takes a disappointing team with inconsistent playing time at most positions.
And it’s weird.