Kevin Pillar Feels He's Entering Prime, But Giants Return No Guarantee

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Washington Nationals have rolled through the National League and the start of the World Series, much of the focus has been on their age. While 21-year-old Juan Soto is their budding superstar, the rest of the roster is dotted with contributors who are on the wrong side of 30. 

Veterans are all of a sudden popular again, but Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar didn't need to watch this run to know how important experience is. A few days before he packed up for the season, Pillar stood in the clubhouse at Oracle Park and said he's not at all surprised that his best season came in the year he turned 30. 

"When I was in college and working towards getting to this moment, they used to say that baseball players enter their prime around 30 to 32, and I never forgot that," Pillar said. "I know the game statistically is getting younger, but to me age is just a number. I take care of myself, I eat the right foods, I believe in stretching and working hard and working out. I think it's no coincidence that at age 30 I'm having my best year."

Pillar believes the Giants are getting his prime, but he also left San Francisco knowing there are no guarantees. The center fielder is projected to make nearly $10 million in his final season of arbitration, and he's self-aware when asked about why that might even be a question. 

On the surface, it's a no-brainer. Pillar, the Willie Mac Award winner, became the first player in more than 100 years to lead his team in homers (21), RBI (87) and stolen bases (14) after starting the season elsewhere. He's the first Giants outfielder since Hunter Pence in 2013 to hit at least 21 homers and drive in 87 runs, and he led the Giants in defensive innings by more than 100. Pillar made 29 sliding, diving or jumping catches, which was the second-most in the majors, according to Sports Info Solutions. 

There's a flip side of all that, though. Pillar became the first Giant in a decade to hit at least 15 homers and have more home runs than walks (18). His .293 on-base percentage ranked 68th out of 69 qualified hitters in the National League. He was not nominated for a Gold Glove Award on Thursday, and he was worth negative-five Defensive Runs Saved in center field, according to FanGraphs. 

Pillar said he's not a big believer in defensive metrics, and the eye test certainly backed him up. As for the plate discipline, it's something he continues to work on, but he has always been an aggressive hitter and that won't change. 

"I'm a little bit more old school," he said. "Obviously I do get how important getting on base is, and obviously that's an area that I need to improve on. But for as long as this game has been played, scoring runs and driving in runs is an important statistic. Last time I checked, that's how you win games, if you score more runs than the other team."

The decision to tender Pillar a contract or let him go will be a fascinating one, and should tell fans quite a bit about the new-look front office. For as much as Farhan Zaidi is viewed as a numbers guy, those who know him have always insisted he's well-rounded. When the Giants hired Zaidi, one of the selling points was that he could balance "both sides of the room," merging analytics with traditional methods. 

That was, ironically, backed up by the trade for Pillar. He had a .282 OBP in 2018 and similar defensive metrics, but Zaidi made Pillar a priority when he signed his contract in November. Less than a week into the season, he finally convinced the Blue Jays to sign off on a deal.

[RELATED: What will Giants do with their six arbitration-eligible players?]

Zaidi has a lot of holes to fill this offseason, but the expectation is that he will avoid creating one in center field. Pillar can come back on a one-year deal or perhaps come to terms on a two-year deal that keeps him in San Francisco at a lower annual salary. If he's back in the fold, Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski give Zaidi some short-term building blocks in the outfield, and Yastrzemski left no doubt about what he believes should happen in center field this offseason. 

"That's a guy everyone in this locker room should aspire to be like," he said of Pillar. "That's one of the biggest things I've taken from this year, is seeing the process of guys who have lasted as long as they have. He hasn't just done it this year. He's played that amount of games throughout his career. He never takes a day off, never asks for one, never wants one."

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