On Friday afternoon, the Royals announced they reached agreements with relievers Louis Coleman and Tim Collins. Coleman, who qualifies as a Super Two, will earn $725,000 in 2015, while Collins will cash checks totaling a sum of $1,475,000. Going by the estimates from MLB Trade Rumors, these amounts are pretty much spot-on. They had Coleman at $700,000 and Collins at $1.5 million. These contracts seem relatively fair.
Collins, of course, will have to step up his game in 2015. He made two sub-par appearances in April of last year before landing on the DL with a flexor strain in his elbow. One of those appearances was in Detroit the second game of the year when Ned Yost inserted him into a tie game in the bottom of the 10th where he walked a pair of batters before giving up a two-out, game-winning single to Ian Kinsler.
After being sidelined for a month, Collins pitched better upon his return. Over his next 16 outings, he posted a 2.20 ERA over 16.1 innings with 10 strikeouts. Nevertheless, he was the odd man out in June when fellow lefty Bruce Chen came of his stint on the disabled list. At the time, the Royals said they wanted Collins to go to Omaha to work on his secondary pitches. The team said he was throwing too many fastballs and ignoring his change and his curve. The funny thing was, Collins was throwing fewer fastballs in the time leading to his demotion that at any time in his tenure with the Royals. While there was some validity to the claim, it wasn’t like his pitch selection was completely out of whack. He just wasn’t all that effective compared to previous seasons.
Batters have has a modicum of success against Collins’s fastball in previous seasons, hitting around .300 against his heater, which averages around 93 mph. In 2014, he lost about a mph off the pitch and opposing batters posted a batting average of .333 with a .524 slugging percentage. His change and curve are his definite bread and butter pitches. Last summer he limited hitters to a .167 average off his change and a microscopic .077 batting average off his curve. Neither pitch yielded an extra base hit.
Why was he going to his fastball so much in the first part of the season? Good question, especially given how successful his secondary pitches were.
Perhaps part of it stems from a lack of confidence. Perhaps part of it stems from an uncertainty in how to deal with an injury for the first time in his career. Whatever the reason, hitters were able to set Collins up like never before. Command has always been an issue with the lefty. He has a career walk rate of 5.2 BB/9. In 2014, hitters could take a pitch or two, get ahead in the count and then look dead-red fastball. He threw fastballs 91 percent of the time after falling behind in the count to left-handed batters. To right-handers, it was a whopping 84 percent.
This dovetails to another concern about Collins and that is his declining strikeout rate. Entering the 2014 season, his lowest whiff rate as a Royal was around 8 SO/9. In 2014, his strikeout rate tumbled to 6.4 SO/9. Naturally, throwing so many fastballs meant his swing and miss rate would decline, and it did. But his rates tumbled across the board, on all pitches. He was down about 4 percent across the board. Here’s a look at how Collins has missed bats in his major league career.
As you can see from the table, Collins posted career low marks in swing and miss percentage for every pitch type in 2014. That’s not a positive trend for a reliever entering his age 25 season.
Collins was recalled after the Triple-A playoffs and made four appearances for the Royals down the stretch. Three of them were in low-leverage situations. He made the postseason rosters and made a memorable appearance in Game One of the ALDS against the Angels, where, after hitting his first batter, he got the first two outs of the ninth inning in a 2-2 game. With Yost leaning on his Big Three in the bullpen, he didn’t make another appearance until the World Series. Overall, he saw action in three games of the Fall Classic, all of them in mop-up roles.
With Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera in place, Collins profiles as a useful left-handed arm in the Royals bullpen. The temptation for Yost has been to use Collins as a LOOGY, but Collins doesn’t have extreme splits that make him suited for that role. Last year, lefties hit .240/.346/.364 while right-handers posted a line of .231/.361/.353. For his career, same-side batters hit .219/.341/.362 while righties hit .224/.328/.347. See? There’s nothing in his performance to suggest Collins is a lefty-specialist. He can actually be more valuable because when he’s mixing his pitches and missing the bats, he’s equally effective against all batters.
Collins had a rough season, but provided positive value for the Royals in both 2012 and 2013. Steamer projects Collins at a 3.49 ERA to go along with a 8.7 SO/9 and 3.7 BB/9. If he’s going to match those projections, he will need to rediscover some of his swing-and-miss mojo and he will have to get away from throwing so many fastballs when he falls behind in the count. If he can do that, his $1.475 million salary will give the Royals another useful arm in the bullpen. Maybe Yost will hit bullpen nirvana and declare Collins his sixth inning guy.