Entering 2012, the Royals talked about building a super bullpen as a means to take pressure off of a starting rotation that finished with the third worst ERA in the American League in 2011. A key part of that plan was Tim Collins, the generously-listed 5’7″ reliever who’d spent all of 2011 in the big leagues.
Coming up threw the minor leagues, Collins had always had a high strikeout rate. In 223 innings, he struck out 329 batters. After coming over from the Braves in the Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth trade, he put up 20.1 strong innings and made the club last year out of spring training and had a solid year for a rookie. This year, he’s been even better and is barreling down on a record that has stood within the Royals organization since 1971.
Back then, Jim York struck out 103 batters in 93.1 innings in relief. Collins is at 89 through 64.2. He’s already one of only five Royals pitchers to strike out 85 batters in a season pitching exclusively out of the bullpen.
What’s most striking in that chart is that Collins is striking out a much higher percentage (33%!) of his batters than the others. He’s also the only left-handed pitcher. I’d wager he’s also the shortest.
So how’s Collins getting his strikeouts? He uses a mix of a fastball that averages 93.1 mph, a curveball with significant break, and a changeup that has been consistently good going back to last season. During spring training, the Royals adjusted his delivery so that he’s starting more on the first base side of the rubber and they had him lower his release point slightly.
Those small adjustments have made a big difference. Collins had a good ERA last year, but still walked quite a bit of batters (6.4 BB/9). This season, he still walks four batters per nine innings but his strikeout rate has improved from 8.1 K/9 in 2011 to 12.4 K/9 this year. He can get away with a few walks because he’s getting outs without the ball going into play. He’s improved control and improved his dominance. The result is a potentially team record-breaking season.
Those changes have turned Collins’s curveball, a pitch that had negative value last season according to FanGraphs, into his most valuable pitch and he’s throwing it more often as well (27% this year versus 19.7% last year).
Collins has made it into 64 games this year out of the Royals 139. At that pace, he could get into 10 more. At his current strikeout rate of 12.4 per nine innings (and assuming one inning per appearance), that pace puts him at 102 strikeouts. Of course, he could get into 15 games. He could get into seven. He could throw two innings in a couple of them or could just go crazy striking out batters.
Does that team record matter? Not really, but it’s the Royals in September – you find the good footnotes that are out there. If nothing else, Collins has had a great 2012 as a strikeout artist and the adjustments made now should carry over into more success in the future.