Mets: Kevin Pillar’s struggles are changing the center field strategy
The New York Mets are off to a decent start to the 2021 season. What makes this remarkable is because of two reasons: For one, the team is only 1-2 when Jacob deGrom pitches, which is a shame, considering that he has a 0.45 ERA so far this season. For two, many of the team’s hitters are not producing.
Several of these players’ offensive struggles are well-documented. Mets infielders Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil have received significant scrutiny thus far, and outfielder Michael Conforto, despite a solid series against the Rockies, has yet to be a major force in a Mets lineup that was expected to be one of the best offenses in baseball.
However, there is also another Mets outfielder who is also not hitting well, and even though he does not play every day, his struggles are still noticeable.
That player is Kevin Pillar.
Pillar signed with the Mets this offseason as the much cheaper alternative to George Springer. While Pillar’s bat was never the main reason why he has been a regular center fielder for most of his career, he was coming off his best year offensively in 2020, a year that saw him compile a slash line of .288/.336/.462. It was expected that Nimmo and Pillar would split the time in center field because of Nimmo’s on-base abilities and Pillar’s defensive abilities.
The Mets signed Kevin Pillar to split time with Brandon Nimmo in center field, and so far it has not been much of a competition.
However, this proposed platoon has thus far not materialized, mostly because Nimmo has exceeded expectations and Pillar has failed to make a difference so far. The Mets knew that Pillar would be a reliable defensive center fielder, and in the games that he has played in, he has been that for the team. However, like Dominic Smith to some extent, Pillar’s playing time in the outfield would be mostly dictated by his bat. Although Smith has earned the playing time in left field because of his power-hitting ability, Pillar has yet to provide a spark offensively, which is cutting into his playing time in a significant way.
To regain some of his playing time, Pillar is going to have to take advantage of the limited at-bats he receives, and that starts with punishing left-handed hitters. Over the course of his career, Pillar has always mashed left-handed pitchers compared to right-handed pitchers. It was one of the reasons why he was so successful in 2020. Last season, Pillar batted .342/.390/.579 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI against right-handed pitchers. So far this season, he is 1-for-6. Although a small sample size, Pillar has failed to take advantage of these opportunities.
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With Nimmo being the best Mets hitter currently, Pillar is going to have to raise his offensive game to another level to earn playing time. A 2-for-16 start is not going to cut it. Considering that the Mets have a crowded outfield as it is, Pillar needs to produce with the limited opportunities he gets in order to receive the playing time he desires.