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Tigers' Tyler Collins makes lukewarm impression in extended audition for 2016

Tyler Collins showed flashes of potential, but didn't blow anyone away in 2015.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

In the coming years, Detroit Tigers fans will hopefully look back fondly on the trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets. Cespedes caught fire, leading the Mets to their first National League East Division title in nearly a decade. The pitching prospects the Tigers received in return are still a year or two away from major league action. We cannot accurately judge this trade from the Tigers' perspective yet.

One player that did reap immediate benefits from the trade was Tyler Collins. The 25-year-old outfielder was called up immediately, and played in 42 of the team's final 59 games. Used sparingly as a bench player in brief call-ups prior to that point, Collins made his case for more playing time in 2016 by hitting .262/.316/.390 with a pair of home runs after the trade deadline.

The Tigers handled him with kid gloves, though. Collins only faced 14 left-handed pitchers in his 207 major league plate appearances in 2015, half of which came against relievers. He only played a handful of innings in right field and did not make an appearance in center. This hypothetical platoon role is one half of a hole the Tigers need to fill in left field for 2016, and Collins didn't exactly cement himself into that spot. He didn't hurt his chances either, though, so it's important to look closer at what Collins did on the field in 2015.

The good

Tyler Collins crushed pitches low in the strike zone. Like most left-handed hitters, Collins' natural uppercut swing lends itself to this, but nearly all of his hits -- including three of his four home runs -- came on pitches lower in the strike zone.

Tyler Collins hit map

Collins was largely pitched low-and-away by both righties and lefties, and he did well to counter that approach with a number of hits on pitches on the outer half. However, most of his hits came to the pull field, and he was all but helpless against offspeed pitches away, calling into question whether he was really able to adjust to how opponents were pitching him.

One thing is for certain: Collins mashed fastballs in 2015. He hit .300 with a .470 slugging average against fastballs this season, compared to a .226 average and .357 slugging average against offspeed pitches. This comes as no surprise, as many young players have difficulty picking up major league caliber secondary pitches at first. Remarkably, Collins did not take an offspeed pitch for ball four in 2015; all 13 of his walks were drawn on fastballs.

There are plenty of small sample caveats here -- Collins' .320 ISO on sliders, for instance -- but an inexperienced hitter struggling with offspeed pitches is to be expected. He whiffed on 11 percent of the fastballs he faced, but 18.2 percent of changeups, a key pitch for righties when facing aggressive lefties like Collins.

The bad

As hinted above, Collins has some swing-and-miss in his game. He whiffed on 10.4 percent of pitches faced in 2015, slightly above the league average of 9.6 percent. Collins' 20.8 percent strikeout rate was also above average, and similar to the rates he posted in Double and Triple-A over the past couple years. This isn't as bad as someone like Steven Moya, for instance, but until Collins develops a bit more power, it would be nice to see him make a little more contact. His big weakness was the high fastball, a pitch he had trouble laying off of and couldn't hit once he offered.

Tyler Collins whiff rate

Then there's the defense. Former Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks was worth 3.6 WAR in parts of three seasons with the team, including a pair of years at 1.6 or better. I imagine most fans would be happy with a 1.6 WAR season from Collins in 2016, but he will have to fare much better than the 103 wRC+ Dirks had to get there. Dirks was worth +14 defensive runs saved in just over 2,000 innings in the outfield, and was a Gold Glove finalist in 2013.

Collins is neither of those things. He was worth -5 defensive runs saved and had a -2.9 UZR in 358 1/3 innings this season. Defensive metrics are notoriously unreliable in small samples, and these seem slightly exaggerated, but these numbers aren't masking anything major. Collins looks like a below average defender in the corner outfield, and with his limited athleticism, it's hard to see him making major strides in an offseason or two.

Catherine's grade: C+

He wasn't supposed to play as much as he did. Cespedes was supposed to be the solidified left fielder. But considering Collins essentially got thrown into the fire, he did quite well. He went on a tear in Sept. and hit .297/.381/.486. He wasn't great defensively but he wasn't awful in the last month. The question going into 2016 is: Was that Collins adjusting to MLB pitching, or a product of facing more than just MLB hitting, aka call-ups and replacement pitching? Wait and see ...

Expectations for 2016

For 60 games in 2015, Tyler Collins was a league average hitter. The stats are almost carbon copies, really. Collins hit .266/.316/.417 in 207 plate appearances, while the average American Leaguer hit .255/.318/.412. Collins drew walks at a slightly lower rate, but a higher batting average made up the difference in terms of getting on base. His slugging average was nearly identical to the overall league rate.

This is where the conversation about 2016 gets a bit murky. It's not unreasonable to expect a 25-year-old outfielder to improve a bit as he gets older, but Collins' 2015 production was largely a result of two small sample phenomena: (1) a .324 BABIP, 28 points higher than the AL average, and (2) a September in which Collins hit .293/.376/.480 in 85 plate appearances. No one expects Collins to carry an .856 OPS going forward, and with a subpar glove on his right hand -- he was worth -5 defensive runs saved in 44 games this year -- he will be hard pressed to crack the 2.0 WAR barrier next season in full-time action.