Kevin Pillar and the economics of baseball

If you follow Blue Jays baseball, you probably have heard about Kevin Pillar’s amazing catch in left field earlier this week. Except for Devon White’s famous World Series catch, this is probably the best grab ever made by a Blue Jays outfielder. And this was not the first amazing play that Pillar has made this season: Fangraphs, in One Week With Kevin Pillar, describes several other outstanding catches that Pillar has made (along with a miscue or two).

In the Fangraphs article, author Jeff Sullivan marvels that Pillar is willing to sacrifice his body to make tough catches in lopsided games, and points out, “[B]aseball players don’t know how to turn it down when a game gets out of hand. Especially the ones fighting for jobs. Every chance is important when you never feel secure.”

And every chance is important when a player has a chance to make major-league money. If you’re not familiar with the economics of baseball, you might be startled to learn the difference between what minor-league and major-league players make. In 2014, the minimum major league salary was $500,000, and minor-leaguers in their first year at triple-A make $2150 a month. So a major leaguer makes more in two days than his minor league counterpart in a month.

Now consider Kevin Pillar’s situation. He was on the fringe of the major league roster, and it wasn’t clear that he was going to make the club. He made the team mostly because Michael Saunders was hurt, and was in the same position this year as Moises Sierra was last year. If he gets sent down this year, he might never get to come back up. But if he can become established as a major-league outfielder – even a reserve one – he stands to make at least a million dollars, and possibly more.

So, it’s no wonder that he is giving it everything he has: one or two great plays might just be enough to ensure that he can support his family for the rest of his life. Whether he’ll actually make it is still an open question: it’s a long season. But Pillar used to be known as the guy who got demoted when he threw a tantrum after being replaced by a pinch-hitter. Now, he’s the guy who made that catch. That’s a big improvement.

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About davetill

I'm a writer and occasional web designer. I live in Toronto.
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