One of the more noteworthy moves the Tigers made coming out of the All-Star break was opting to keep Tyler Collins and optioning Steven Moya back to Triple-A Toledo. Moya was originally called up when outfielder J.D. Martinez was injured back in mid-june; he’s been sidelined ever since and is likely less than two weeks away.
There were some Tigers fans who were a bit surprised and quite honestly peeved about the fact that Collins was sticking around. Given that Moya was holding his own, at least offensively and that whole ‘flipping the bird to the fans’ fiasco Collins had back early in the season, fans were not really in a hurry to see Tyler in action.
However, it was the flexibility both offensively and defensively with Collins that made the decision much easier to keep him over Moya. Sure, Moya had finally found his homer stroke at the big league level that Tigers fans have been dying to see in person, but to say he was a liability in the field was an understatement. A 3-for-23 performance with 14 strikeouts in 12 July games did not help his case either.
Remember, Collins was originally called up because Justin Upton was placed on the bereavement list. He went 2-for-7 with a solo homer and two RBI in those two games Upton was away from the club. Some of you might be thinking, “Well that’s not enough to keep him over Moya, anyone can do that.” Sure, fair point there. But this very well could have been predetermined, and again it goes back to the increased margin for error the Tigers have with Collins in the field and at the dish.
It’s ironic too, because it’s not like Collins was hitting the cover off the ball down in Toledo this season – .214 BA in 68 games. He’s just like any other young, inexperienced player in the organization, right? Not exactly… Collins earned his stripes in 2015 when he became a regular with the club post-trade deadline and in 60 total games last season, he registered a very respectable .266/.316/.416 slash line.
When Tyler re-joined the club to start the second half, he was hitting just .100 (2×20) with one extra-base-hit and one RBI. He struggled, no matter how you slice the numbers. But this month, he’s caught fire posting a .313 BA, slugging over .650 and has an OPS of 1.028 in 12 games. And not to directly correlate any of the team’s success solely on Tyler, but the team is 9-3 in games he’s played in.
So what makes him more valuable than someone like Steven Moya, and how does he present more margin for error? Defensively, watching him speaks for itself. He can comfortably play all three outfield positions. And while he’s not a top tier burner, he can track down fly balls much more smoothly than Moya. That extra step can be the different between an out or an XBH for an opposing hitter.
Offensively, he strikes out much less than Moya has in his time with the Tigers. While it still isn’t the greatest of percentages (22.4 percent K-Rate for Collins in 100 games w/ DET; 38.7 percent K-Rate for Moya in 46 games w/ DET), in a sport where strikeouts are becoming more and more the norm, a team will gladly take a guy that does not strike out a ton. Putting the ball in play for an out versus striking out can be the difference of 90 feet, putting a runner into scoring position or even plating a run.
Like him or not as a person, Tyler Collins has shown in his rather small sample size (by major league standards) that he has multiple tools to play everyday as a role player if need be. And his recent play in July compounded with the way the club has been playing since his addition gives the Tigers brass something to really think about.
See, Detroit has three guys on the disabled list that are set to return within the next week or two – outfielder J.D. Martinez, and starters Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann. When those three come back, three players on the current 25-man are going to bet sent back down to the minors.
The Tigers right now are carrying an extra reliever and only three bench position players. The first candidate likely to return to Toledo is reliever Dustin Molleken. Molleken was called up when the team placed Norris on the DL, he’s appeared in just four games this month and logged 8.2 innings, allowing 4 ER. Candidate No. 2 is likely Matt Boyd. Despite pitching very well in July (2.21 ERA in four starts), Boyd was only recalled to fill one of the two empty rotation spots. When both Norris and Zimmermann return, that means Anibal Sanchez will return to the bullpen – so what about J.D.?
Well in theory, Collins might be the odd man out because the team might opt to carry an extra pitcher for the long haul. But because the way Collins has performed, that could change some minds. If not Collins, which reliever would go down?
Statistically speaking, the two most likely candidates in that scenario would be Kyle Ryan or Bruce Rondon. Ryan had been one of the more steady relievers for Detroit prior to July, but a 6.00 ERA in 9.0 innings of work could warrant him being sent down, at least for a minor tune-up. After all, Ryan still posts a solid 3.44 ERA and gives Detroit a lefty option in the bullpen.
Rondon meanwhile has hit the skids in July after a very impressive June. Bruce yielded 7 ER in 8.0 IP in July, allowing three homers in the process. Sure, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning and walked only five in 15.0 total innings, but he’s more often than not so far put himself in too many hitter-friendly pitch counts for him to get torched. That said, he gives the Tigers a hard-throwing slant from the right side.
What the Tigers do when the three injured starters return remains to be seen. However, what Tyler Collins has done since being recalled can simply not go unnoticed. I’m sure the team is well aware and wondering the same thing, “What do we do?”
What would you do?