Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Tim Collins (55) pitches during the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Kanas City won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
It took him a year, but Royals reliever Tim Collins is pitching like the guy people imagined, and it's dazzling to behold.
When some people take breaks from work, they do other things. They read, or they go for a walk, or they go for a run, or they take a nap. The possibilities are virtually limitless. A lot of the time, when I take a break from work, I play around with baseball stats. Sometimes that's work, but I consider it a break when its aimless. This afternoon I was aimlessly playing around with baseball stats, and then I happened upon something that I'm writing about now, so I guess that break counts as work retroactively.
I was on FanGraphs, and I was looking at individual pitcher splits. I don't like when people make too much of in-season individual player splits, but I can't deny my own curiosity, and I set the leaderboards to show me pitcher stats against right-handed batters. I sorted by strikeout-to-walk ratio, and there at the top, waving back to me, was one Tim Collins.
It's a little deceptive - four regular or semi-regular pitchers have yet to walk a single right-handed batter, so their ratios are messed up. But Collins is at the top of the imperfect leaderboard, with one walk and 26 strikeouts.
Thought Number One
"I knew Collins was having a good season, but I didn't know he was having that good of a season."
Thought Number Two
"Wait, isn't Tim Collins left-handed?"
Tim Collins is left-handed. Look, I'll prove it:
What we have here is a young left-handed reliever, absolutely dominating right-handed hitters. That's a rare thing, and it means that, in Collins, the Royals apparently have one hell of a shutdown fireman.
Which is what some people expected the Royals to have in Collins a year ago. The Royals acquired Collins from the Braves in July 2010 as part of the Rick Ankiel/Kyle Farnsworth trade. At the time, Collins was 20, and his minor-league numbers were absurd. By the end of the year, he'd reached triple-A, and overall that season between two levels he generated 108 strikeouts while issuing just 27 walks. That's over 56 relief appearances, by the way. Collins had proven untouchable at every stop, and the more numbers-inclined among us figured he'd earned a shot in the bigs.
Which he got out of camp in 2011. Collins was a cult favorite for two reasons: His strikeout numbers were insane, and he was officially listed at five-foot-seven. Which meant, in truth, he was shy of five-foot-seven. Collins didn't only have unusual numbers; he had an unusual frame and an unusual delivery, which make for a guy who's a lot more fun to root for than, I don't know, Jamey Wright. Nothing against Jamey Wright, but it's hard to compare to Tim Collins' appeal.
Unfortunately for Collins and his supporters, 2011 was less than stellar. He did pitch in 68 games for Kansas City, and he did post a 3.63 ERA, but his walks were way too high, and his strikeouts not high enough. There are talented prospects who manage to carry their minor-league numbers over into the majors. There are players whose minor-league numbers don't make a good transition. It looked like the latter group might include Tim Collins.
But 2011 isn't 2012, and now things are different. You've seen the numbers above. Collins is just 22 years old, and after a year of pitching like a guy who'd fit with Royals teams past, he's pitching like a guy who fits on the much-anticipated Royals teams of the future.
While these relationships can't be proved, it makes sense that Collins' improvement might be tied to mechanical adjustments he made in spring training. The Royals brought in a new pitching coach, and, an excerpt:
"We straightened out his alignment," Eiland said. "We took some of the rotation away from him and also lowered his front side. We also moved him from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side of the rubber. That was all designed to help his command, also give him a little bit better angle vs. left-handed hitters."
What follow are some numbers of interest, or at least of interest to me. I hope that they are of interest to you.
There's improvement in Collins' strikeouts and walks against lefties, although, curiously, there's no improvement in strike rate. That's odd, given that Eiland specifically referred to trying to give Collins a better angle against lefties. But look at the second table. There's a huge improvement in walks, a huge improvement in strikeouts, and a huge improvement in strike rate. Against righties, Collins is a whole new pitcher.
He throws them fastballs, curveballs, and changeups, just as he did in 2011. But in 2011, Collins struggled to throw strikes with either of his offspeed pitches. Combined, half of his offspeed pitches thrown to righties were balls last season. This year, 97 of 133 have been strikes. Collins is locating his weapons better, leading to more called strikes, and leading to more swinging strikes.
About those weapons - I can't go an article without including at least one .gif, and here I will present to you three .gifs. First, here's Tim Collins' fastball, which registers in the low- to mid-90s:
Tim Collins' changeup, which is just like his fastball but ten miles per hour slower:
And Tim Collins' curve, which can kill just by being seen:
Collins doesn't just throw a fastball, a change, and a curve. He throws one of the straightest fastballs in the league, with very little sink. I could go into a PITCHfx explanation, but in short, Collins' fastball sinks less than almost anyone else's fastball. So you could (improperly) call it a rising fastball if you like. His changeup moves almost the exact same. His changeup is just a slower version of his fastball.
And then the curve. Collins' fastball has less sink than almost anyone else's, and his curveball has more sink than almost anyone else's. According to FanGraphs, the only curveballs that drop more than Collins' belong to Alex Cobb, Jason Isringhausen, and Jesse Crain. Cobb doesn't throw his curveball that much. Crain doesn't throw his curveball that much. Isringhausen's sinks by an extra half-inch.
In fact, there is no pitcher who has a larger vertical-movement separation than Tim Collins. On average, his curve sinks 23 more inches than his fastball. Hold your hands in front of you and estimate what two feet look like. Or examine something that you know to be about two feet tall or long. Jesse Crain is just behind Collins, but again, Crain doesn't throw his curve nearly as often as Collins does. Then you get Brandon Beachy and a host of other guys who don't have Collins' gap.
One figures this is a big reason why Collins is successful, especially against righties. He could throw a rising fastball at 93 miles per hour. He could throw a changeup that looks like his fastball at 83 miles per hour. Or he could throw a curve that's just like the complete opposite of his other two pitches. A year ago, Collins didn't have enough command of his offspeed pitches to make them consistently dangerous. Now they've been weaponized.
At present, Tim Collins is just a middle reliever with zero career saves. This is a long article about a middle reliever with zero career saves. But what a middle reliever he is, and Tim Collins might've developed into one of the lesser-known dominant arms in the game. Sometimes a prospect can't translate his impressive numbers. Sometimes a prospect can't translate his impressive numbers, at first. The Royals gave Tim Collins a second, and they're mighty thankful that they did.