Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays are two of the top defensive outfielders in today's game. It seems every other night there is a highlight reel catch made by either of these players. While there are stats such as UZR and DRS to measure a player's defensive value, as of the 2015 season, a new form of evaluation was created.
Statcast measures such items as Route Efficiency, Distance covered, Arm Strength, and other items as well. For a more comprehensive look on how Statcast is used as well as what their metrics mean, click here.
For the purpose of this article, I will use Statcast defensive data to compare Pillar and Kiermaier. Since Statcast is still fairly new, there is not a tremendous amount of data available for each player. For Pillar there are seven plays measured; for Kiermaier there are five plays measured. Keep this mind as the analysis progresses.
Route efficiency is how well a fielder gets to the batted ball to make the catch. It is measured in percentage. Pillar and Kiermaier's average route efficiencies are within mere decimal points of each other. The average of Pillar's seven catches is 95.8 to Kiermaier's average of 95.4. When comparing their best routes, Pillar edges Kiermaier 97.9 - 96.6. Since they are separated by decimals, there is no definitive edge to either player in regard to route efficiency, but it is clear there will not be many batted balls Pillar and Kiermaier cannot get thanks to the tremendous routes they take to catch the baseball.
Pillar's best route:
Kiermaier's best route:
Distance covered is the total distance in feet covered from batted ball contact to fielding the ball. Distance covered is a great way to know how far a player had to run to make the catch, but I am hesitant to compare players because the fielder needs help from the batter hitting the ball a great distance for the fielder to run further. In addition, the size of the outfield can play a role in distance covered - balls that go over the fence don't get caught. Of course, the positioning of the player prior to contact plays a huge role in how far he has to run to catch the batted ball.
Nonetheless, Pillar has an average distance covered greater than Kiermaier's, 89.4 to 78.5. Pillar is helped by the fact he ran 116.8 feet to catch a ball hit by Brandon Guyer last season, so his average is heightened. In terms of who has had to run the furthest to catch batted balls, Pillar made three recorded catches over 90 feet, while Kiermaier made only one.
Pillar's furthest distance:
Kiermaier's furthest distance:
In order to cover all the distance in the outfield, particularly CF, you must be fast. Another great feature of Statcast is the ability to track the maximum speed a player ran after the batted ball. It is measured in mph.
Similar to route efficiency, Pillar and Kiermaier are very close in their average max speed. Pillar's max speed was measured six times, while Kiermaier's max speed was measured three times. Of the recorded plays, Pillar edges Kiermaier 18.4 mph to 18 mph. Once again, they are just about even in this aspect. Even their respective highest max speed was similar with Pillar's 19.9 and Kiermaier's 19.6.
Pillar's greatest max speed is the same play from distance covered. Kiermaier's greatest max speed is the same play from route efficiency.
Perhaps the most important aspect of making a catch is the first step of a fielder. A quick first step can be all the difference in the world between making and not making the catch. There are three recorded first steps for each player, and their averages are not close. Pillar's average first step is 0.28 seconds compared to 0.63 seconds for Kiermaier. A 0.28 first step time is incredible and less than half of Kiermaier's average.
Pillar's best 1st step:
Kiermaier's best 1st step is the same play from route efficiency and max speed.
Unfortunately, in terms of arm strength and throwing distance there are no plays measured for Kevin Pillar as of now, but there is one for Kevin Kiermaier from October 1st, 2015. His arm strength was 100.4 mph and he threw the baseball 232.8 feet.
Based on the above Statcast data, we can get a better analysis of Kevin Pillar and Kevin Kiermaier from a defensive standpoint. While there are some areas where they are just about even, I would give an edge to Kevin Pillar over Kevin Kiermaier defensively. The first step of Kevin Pillar's, according to Statcast, is remarkably better than Kevin Kiermaier's, which can make a huge difference. More data could change everything here, however, so it is important to note that each player could improve or get worse in each metric over time as a reflection of their true talent.