With Victor Martinez headed to the disabled list for what might be more than a 15-day stay, the Detroit Tigers have recalled left handed hitting outfielder Tyler Collins from Triple-A Toledo. Martinez, a switch hitter, was the Tigers' full time DH, finishing second in the American League's Most Valuable Player balloting in 2014. But that might not be the role that the Tigers have in mind for Collins.
Collins is a left-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, but has mainly played in a corner position. He has shown decent power in the minor leagues in the past, and has a batting line of .316 average, .430 on-base percentage and .395 slugging for an .825 OPS against right-handed pitchers this season. It would seem easy enough to slot Collins in as the designated hitter against right handed pitchers, or give either Yoenis Cespedes or J.D. Martinez a day off from the outfield and use Collins in a corner outfield position, but that is probably not the Tigers' plan.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has regularly used Rajai Davis against right-handed pitchers both in 2015 and for most of the 2014 season, despite relatively weak numbers in that role. Davis has hit .250/ .345/ .333/.679 against righthanders this season, and .313/ .389/ .594/.983 against left-handed pitchers. Yet, he has 36 plate appearances against lefthanders and 56 against righthanders. Davis has been a catalyst in the Tigers' lineup, and Ausmus doesn't like to leave him on the bench.
The Tigers' lineup, which was already heavily tilted toward the right side, became even more imbalanced with the loss of left handed hitting catcher Alex Avila, who is on the disabled list with a knee injury. Anthony Gose and the switch-hitting Martinez are the only two hitters of the 13 on the roster who bat from the left side against right handed pitching. Collins would give the lineup another left handed bat.
Collins was not necessarily the obvious choice to be called up from the minor leagues. Daniel Fields is another left-handed batting outfielder who was having a better season at the plate, hitting 321/.455/.577/1.032 against right-handed pitchers. Fields has a higher upside than Collins and is not someone that the club wants sitting on the bench if he were to be called up. This may be a further indication that Collins could be destined for a limited role.
Collins made the Tigers' Opening Day roster in 2014, but was optioned to Toledo shortly after the season began. He was recalled in September, but was used sparingly, even when the situation called for a left handed hitter. Ausmus even used the light hitting Don Kelly in one pinch hitting situation, remarking that Kelly was the most experienced left handed batter available. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Collins.
Some of us argued at the start of the season that Collins should have been on the major league roster. Hernan Perez, the Tigers' third string utility infielder is slashing .087/.087/.087 in just 26 plate appearances, already racking up a negative 0.5 WAR in just 16 games. Perez may have some upside, eventually, but he isn't helping the team, and Ausmus finds a way to use him in some of the most crucial game situations, for lack of having a decent hitter on the bench.
Rajai Davis, at age 34, is a known quantity at this point in his career. He has a slash line of .254/.297/.348/.646 against right-handed pitchers and is a below average corner outfielder, defensively and offensively. He is arguably more valuable to the team as a pinch runner when the team is facing a right handed pitcher, or as a pinch hitter should the opposing team bring in a left hander.
Playing time in the big leagues should not be determined by seniority. Maybe the Tigers don't have a hitter who can be more productive against right-handed pitchers at the major league level, but they need to find that out, and there is no better time to do it than the present.