We know that Kevin Pillar isn’t a great hitter. He has a double or nothing approach in that he either double or he does nothing. For his career, he has slashed .257/.294/.393 which is solidly below average. This season, he’s been much worse at the plate. His slash line is .213/.243/.344. That’s a .587 OPS and a 50 wRC+.
He hasn’t even been unlucky. His .262 xwOBA is in the bottom three percent of the league. His hard-hit rate is the lowest it has been since 2015. He’s never drawn a ton of walks (see: career OBP below .300), but his walk rate is a career low. He’s swinging more at both pitches inside and outside the strike zone. He chases pitches with as much regularity as Javier Báez just with far less power.
On any other team, he might be relegated to platoon duty, but the Giants don’t really have an optimal configuration for that. Mike Yastrzemski has looked good in right field, and he swings from the left side. Pulling Yas from left field means that either Tyler Austin will be hitting against a righty or Brandon Belt will be in left field. In Belt’s not at first that means Buster Posey or Aramís García would be. That’s a lot of cards to shuffle for what might be a zero-sum gain.
Barring a platoon, we’ll just have to hope that Pillar hits better, and right now there isn’t a lot of reason to believe that will happen. But Pillar doesn’t need to be a double ropin’, dinger smashin’, walk drawin’ machine to be a valuable player. He’s been an elite center fielder throughout his career, and that alone has made him a starter.
But in 2019, Pillar has not only been worse at the plate, he’s been worse in the field. His defense was shaky enough that Steven Duggar supplanted him in center. After two full months, Pillar has been worth -2 defensive runs saved. By DRS, he has been about as good in the outfield as Kyle Schwarber, Wil Myers, Ryan Braun and Juan Soto, and Pillar’s offensive production doesn’t even come compare to those guys.
Defensive numbers are notoriously noisy in small samples. Even last season’s below average numbers could have been attributable to small samples, but UZR and Statcast’s outs above average all agree that Pillar is more of an average defender now. I don’t know if the eye test backs that up. The eye test is perhaps the least important part of analyzing defense, but it’s hard to say anything about a player with certainty unless there’s agreement between the numbers and the peepers.
Pillar has missed a few diving plays and those will hurt his numbers, but his instincts and routes seem to be fine. His sprint speed isn’t any slower than it was in 2016. He can still make jaw dropping plays.
If Pillar’s defense is truly worse then the Giants’ acquisition of him also looks worse. Pillar is at the age where his defense doesn’t have to improve. It’s a good thing that the Giants have Steven Duggar to slot into center so Pillar can slide over to right.
So, how much should you be concerned about Kevin Pillar’s offense? Very! How concerned should you be about his defense. Eh, maybe a little.