The Postseason Grades series continues with a look at Brett Pill.
Brett Pill seems to be a AAAA slugger, inasmuch as those rare creatures actually exist. A career .301/.340/.511 hitter in over 1700 AAA plate appearances, Pill has never managed to break out during his 248 days on the big league rosters from 2011-2013. Looking a little more closely at Pill minor league record shows why he isn’t, and never really has been, a good candidate for greater playing time in San Francisco.
First, Pill’s four triple-A seasons happened during when he was age 25-28, a hitter’s physical peak. In general, a hitter will never be as good as he is when he is between the ages of 25 and 28. Second, the Pacific Coast League is an extreme hitters league. In 2010, the league had a .780 OPS; in 2013, it had a .756 OPS. In context, Pill’s .851 OPS during those years is not as impressive as it seems. In fact, Pill’s .340 AAA OBP is below the 2013 league .342 OBP. Third, a closer look at Pill’s stats reveal one huge hole in his game that has thus far been exploited in the majors: his batting eye. Although Pill has shown a propensity for avoiding the strikeout in the minors – career 12.9% K-rate, 11.4% K-rate in AAA – he also has shown an aversion to walks. In his minor league career, he has walked in only 5.8% of plate appearances, a rate that drops to 4.9% in AAA and 5.0% in the majors. From 2011-2013, according to the website MinorLeagueCentral.com, 62% of pitches Pill saw in AAA were in the strike zone. In the same time period, only 47% of pitches he saw in the majors were in the strike zone. While the percentage of pitches Pill swings at has stayed basically the same in the majors and minors (2011-2013: AAA Swing%, 50.9%; MLB Swing%, 51.9%), the percentage of pitches he sees in the strike zone has decreased by 15%.
A player without plate discipline is going to struggle in the major leagues. Yes, there are exceptions – there are always exceptions – but by and large a player has to be able to tell the difference between a ball and a strike. Pill is pretty good at making contact. His MLB career K-rate of 17% is decent, and his 77% contact rate is only a couple percentage points below the league average. If only he could hold off of a few more sliders, he could be a useful bench bat.
But Pill is 29 now. Baseball players are not known for making career-altering changes to their approach at age 29. In all likelihood, his time with the Giants is near an end. He was yo-yo’d around a bit in 2013 – he was called up from Fresno three separate times – and now he is out of options. Next year, the Giants must keep him on the active roster all year; if they want to demote him they have to put him through waivers first. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pill traded or waived outright next spring, or sooner.