Tyler Flowers Moving into Mixed Leagues?

Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hasn’t exactly been a prime target for those in mixed leagues, even of the two-catcher variety (say, with 12 teams), since his 2009 debut. It’s possible, however, that he’s in the midst of a breakthrough, in his age-28 campaign, which would earn him a shot at a membership to that club, at least.

Flowers has batted .351/.407/.635 in 81 plate appearances in the past month. He’s reportedly been working on his approach for some time, doing some things differently, he says. In addition, the backstop has usually worn contact lenses, but just before the All-Star break, he went with a pair of sport goggles. H/T to commenter Jonathan Sher, again, for pointing out the latter fact. It’s what prompted me to become curious about the ChiSox’s backstop in the first place.

Flowers’ .423 BABIP during this hot streak certainly suggests that there’s some good fortune fueling his hot streak. But this recent stretch of his has shown some possible reasons, even in a small sample size for the stabilization of most indicators, to believe that his characteristics as a hitter are evolving to some degree.

Flowers opened this season with a .373 average in his first 80 plate appearances. It was easier to dismiss the result then thanks to the .600 average on balls in play. There was no evidence of development in that period, not with a 36.3 K%, 68.6 Contact%, 15.0 SwStr% and .067 ISO at the end of it. He was still a hacker, and the difference between his AVG and SLG implies that he wasn’t making a lot of hard contact. He didn’t even provide but one bomb in that span, so it was pretty much all false hope. In his next 184 plate appearances, Flowers provided confirmation of the expectations of the direction of his batting line. He hit .150/.219/.240, with a 38.6 K%, 65.1 Contact% and 17.4 SwStr%.

But Flowers has supposedly been making some changes. For a batter with a 34.0% strikeout rate and 67.1% contact rate through 937 lifetime plate appearances, a change in approach can’t be the worst idea. But it’d be fair to wonder how much progress he’s capable of making at this point, given those rates. What’s the possible return on investment?

Well, let’s see. In those 81 PAs – the set with the .351/.407/.635 line, which began on July 9, the date cited as the first on which he wore the new specs – the .284 ISO Flowers sported is pretty exciting. He hit the ball hard, something that his line-drive rate alone for that stretch – 23.4% – wouldn’t necessarily have told us, given that his season rate is 23.6%, although that’s easily the best of his career. He struck out in 22.2% of those trips to the plate, a marvelous improvement, along with the jump in his contact rate (76.7%) and dip in his swinging-strike rate (12.3%).

It’s still not possible to trust that the outcomes of this particular span, which include four round-trippers, are something Flowers will continue. But it marks perhaps the first stage of his career in which there is evidence of his improvement as a hitter. He could be laying a foundation that allows him to gain more fantasy relevance, one in which he would regularly strike out less than 30% of the time and move himself into a different bucket of players, those who fail a little less often. Perhaps he becomes a .225 to .250 hitter instead of the .200 to .225 bum we’ve come to know him as. That kind of average along with 15-plus homers sounds easier to swallow.

Flowers’ progress has probably not been as dramatic as recent results suggest. He’s still aggressive. His 34.3% chase rate didn’t change much during this highlighted 81-PA period. His SwStr% for that chunk of his game logs still isn’t good, even if it’s better. But there are signs of growth in his game on offense, nonetheless. He’s provided great value on defense in his time with the parent club, as the South Siders expected. A bit more from his stick could make him a solid everyday player in the long term for Chicago or someone else.

I kind of liked Josh Phegley’s chances to usurp PAs from Flowers in September, but I don’t think that’s as likely now. Phegley is also pretty good defensively, and his hit tool may be better than that of Flowers. But Flowers is on the way to improving his batting skills. The jumps could help him to maintain his PT advantage in September as well as up his opportunity to be the primary catcher again in 2015.

Print This Post

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

I had been waiting to see if anything would be made of his recent hitting. I’d normally be pretty quick to dismiss it, but it’s tough to know what to make of catchers sometimes. Flowers was a fairly well regarded bat as a prospect, and catchers are often late to develop offensively. Time will tell.