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Will the Royals really miss Tim Collins?

The alternatives don't pose much of a drop-off in performance.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday we learned that Tim Collins elbow was in serious concern. When a pitcher has a tear, strain, pull, or any synonym for an injury in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), it usually means Tommy John surgery in most cases.

Almost one year ago today we learned that Luke Hochevar had UCL damage. In Hochevar's case it was an initial diagnosis of a strain that further examinations proved to be more severe, with Ned Yost saying as much as 65% of the ligament was damaged. Even at that time last year it was acknowledged that while losing Hochevar wasn't a good thing, it wasn't expected to be mortally damaging.

Let's get some things in front of us. First, Hochevar was pretty good in his first relief year in 2013. He posted a 10.49 K/9, 2.10 BB/9,  a 1.92 ERA and 2.96 FIP, putting him in or near the top 25 among all relievers in all four of those categories. He wasn't elite, but was pretty good and borderline "very good." Nonetheless, the Royals bullpen was just fine in 2014 without Hochevar, still leading the league in fWAR.

Tim Collins isn't Luke Hochevar, or at least he wasn't last year, a notion attributable to the fact that Collins spent more time in AAA than the MLB bullpen last year. Collins wasn't loved, or even endeared, by the traditional or advanced numbers last year. He also isn't loved/liked/like-liked by the projections for this year. Both Steamer and ZiPS have him as a replacement level player with a pretty poor walk rate, something Collins has struggled with his whole career.

Upon hearing of Collins injury many fans were wondering what now happens to Brandon Finnegan? Finnegan was up in the air for the bullpen or rotation going into 2015 prior to Collins injury, but why should that be a concern in regards to Collins replacement?

Sure there's a spot now needing to be filled in the bullpen by a lefty, but it's not as if the Royals need to replace Greg Holland or Wade Davis. Collins is simply a "meh" left-handed reliever. He isn't a supreme LOOGY, because his career split of .316 wOBA against lefties isn't dominating enough. He has a career .298 wOBA against righties, which is actually better, although only slightly better than the league average lefty wOBA.

So here's my point - Tim Collins shouldn't be hard to replace, and it shouldn't cost Brandon Finnegan to replace him. Brian Flynn projects to be about as good as Collins but has a smaller major league track record. The investment in him was Aaron Crow and the ceiling on him seems to be a #5 starter if he were to stick in the rotation. If you're going to sacrifice a future starters' output and move him into the pen, make it the guy with the lower upside who maybe belongs in the pen anyways.

Next there's John Lamb. Lamb doesn't project to be very good either. He's now three years past his Tommy John surgery. His days as an MLB starter are behind him unless his velocity jumps up another 3 mph. I'd prefer Flynn over Lamb (Lamb just isn't a good pitcher), but even if the Royals went with Lamb over Flynn, the difference between Collins and Lamb isn't that large.

The loss of Collins does exists, because the Royals have a limited number of left handed pitchers on the 40-man, but it would be more impactful if Collins was someone tough to replace. He's nothing really more than a below-average or so reliever. The Tim Collins replacement level should be low and the criteria is basically "are you left handed?" The Royals have two possible 40-man pitchers that can answer the affirmative to that and there shouldn't be a large enough drop off to force a stronger consideration of Finnegan in the bullpen.

Sure, Finnegan is the best lefty reliever in the organization, but unless the Royals were already fully committed to starting him in the major league bullpen regardless of Collins injury, Tim getting hurt doesn't/shouldn't change much.