Kevin Pillar is still waiting for an answer about exactly why the analytics have not been favorable to his defense of late.
In the meantime, the Mets outfielder is off to a strong start early in spring training with his bat as he tries to carry over his success at the plate from the shortened season in 2020.
Pillar, who entered Saturday 6-for-12 with two walks in five games, simplified his approach at the plate last season, which he spent split between the Red Sox and Rockies. It resulted in the best offensive year of his career — a smaller sample size notwithstanding — as he hit .288 with a 107 OPS-plus in 54 games.
“I think the big thing was just understanding who I was as a player a little bit more, not constantly trying to search for a lot of different things — whether it was more power numbers or hitting the ball to the opposite field,” Pillar said before the Mets played the Nationals on Saturday night. “I really went back to the simplest form of hitting, kind of like how I grew up, and it was see ball, hit ball, with an idea.
“I want to hunt the pitch I’m looking for and if I don’t get it, sometimes you’re not going to get it. You’re better off seeing more pitches and pitchers make mistakes. Just learning to wait out pitchers a little bit more, not always being in ‘go mode’ pitch one.”
Pillar, who signed with the Mets this offseason to solidify their outfield depth, has stuck with that approach this spring. He said Friday was the first time in Grapefruit League play he swung at a first pitch, and while he finished 0-for-3, he made his presence felt defensively in right field going back for a ball before the wind blew it in and forced him to make a diving grab.
Though Pillar still feels he can provide strong defense for the Mets, the 32-year-old’s defensive analytics have taken a hit in recent years — from plus-11 outs above average in center field in 2016, per Statcast, to -2 in 2019 and -1 in 2020. Pillar said earlier in camp he was looking forward to having a conversation about how he could improve those numbers.
“The conversation has been started, I just haven’t quite got to the point where I’ve had a sit down with either [acting general manager Zack Scott or manager Luis Rojas] or some of our analytics guys,” Pillar said. “But it’s something that will be coming here soon. … I’m still hungry to get better and it’s something I want to try to do.”