Saturday, February 3, 2024

How Kevin Pillar Signing Will Impact White Sox Outfield Competition


On Friday the White Sox agreed to a minor league deal with outfielder Kevin Pillar. Pillar will earn $3 million if he makes the big league roster, according to MLB writer Steve Adams.

Pillar is coming off a rough season where he slashed .228/.248/.416 with 9 home runs and 32 RBI in 206 plate appearances during his lone season with the Atlanta Braves. The 35-year-old mainly served as a fourth outfielder off the bench appearing in half of their games. However, he fits a common theme in players that Getz has targeted this offseason:  a perceived defensive upgrade who is playing for their career. 

Pillar was once considered one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He ranked inside the top 10 in the MLB in Defensive WAR for three consecutive seasons between 2015-2017.  In 2015 he led all MLB outfielders in putouts, in 2016 he had 12 Outs Above Average and in 2017 he had the highest fielding percentage (.997)  as a centerfielder in the league. 

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As Pillar reached his 30s his defense began to slowly decline. In recent years he has mainly been utilized as a corner outfielder which plays into the White Sox needs. The White Sox already have Gold Glove winners in center field and left field in Luis Robert Jr and Andrew Benintendi. What they don’t have is a right fielder. 

White Sox right fielders collectively ranked last in OPS and committed the second most errors in the MLB last season. As it currently stands Gavin Sheets is the front runner to be the Opening Day right fielder. Sheets has already proven to be a below-average defender. 

The 27-year-old posted a Fielding Run Value of -6 which ranked in the MLB’s 13th percentile. He also had an  Outs Above Average of -2. Not all of this is Sheets fault. He is a first baseman by trade who the organization asked to learn a new position on the fly. 

While Pillar isn’t the defender he once was he would certainly provide a defensive upgrade over Sheets. Pillar has played 199 games in left field and 99 games in right field. Last season he had an OAA of 3 in left field while his arm strength placed him in the MLB’s top 75th percentile. 

Sheets does give the White Sox a left-handed bat. However, a case could be made that Pillar is a more productive hitter. The 11-year veteran owns a career slash line of .257/.294/.409. His best offensive season came in 2019 when he hit a career-high 21 homers, and 88 RBIs and finished 22nd in the MVP voting. 

Last season he had an abysmal 2.9% walk rate and had the second-highest strikeout rate of his career. However, Sheets also had a down year. He ranked in the bottom three percent in the league in  Expected Batting Average (.210), Weighted On-Base Average (.261), and Expected Weighted On-Base Average (.267). 

The next best option in the organization is Oscar Colas, who proved he was not ready to be a major leaguer last season. Colas lacked plate discipline, striking out in 27 percent of his MLB plate appearances. There were also rumblings about attitude issues.  Chris Getz has already said that the organization expects Colas to start the 2024 campaign in Triple-A Charlotte. 

Both players are left-handed bats so Pillar could wind up serving as a platoon option depending on the pitching matchup. In the last five seasons, Pillar has a .272/.298/.494 slash line against southpaws. Last season he batted .250 against lefties but was limited to .202 against right-handers. 

Even with those struggles, his .202 average was only slightly worse than Sheets’ .212 average against right-handers. This is a major concern considering the White Sox don’t trust Sheets against left-handers. In 20 plate appearances against righties  Sheets was reduced to a .053 batting average and .103 OPS. 

Because of this don’t be surprised if Pillar wins the full-time starting job out of camp.

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