If you’ve been perusing the web looking for White Sox content of late, you’ve probably come across some of the praise the front office is receiving for improving the long-term outlook of several positions that looked bleak not long ago. The one position that has remained at a stalemate is catcher, where Tyler Flowers is set to start for the second straight season, despite pretty much everything going wrong for the 28 year-old a year ago.
But other than some leg cramps, nothing has gone wrong for Flowers yet this year, so it’s time for some of our patented GSB! optimism regarding No. 21.
Tyler Flowers did not hit or defend anywhere near a starting MLB catcher level last season. Sure, nagging injuries may have played a role in that, but like it’s not as if he was ‘just a bit off’ … to reiterate, he was nowhere near an acceptable level.
Strong offensive catchers are hard to come by though, especially inexpensive ones. Flowers’ calling card had always been his defense, which is why the club figured they could ride out the strike outs he was sure to rack up while hoping for the best to come from his power hitting potential.
Nobody was worried about Flowers’ defense behind the plate heading into last season. He’s never been the most nimble back there, but he always got the job done and could throw out runners at a higher clip than his predecessor, AJ Pierzynski.
That wasn’t the case last year, though. He let up eight passed balls and 24 wild pitches. Yes, I know wild pitches are on the pitchers, but if you watched a lot of the games Flowers caught you know he could’ve helped that number out significantly. His caught stealing % also dropped to 24%.
On offense, he really couldn’t do much right. After a couple Opening Series homers, his power and production slowed down. He had ten long balls, 11 doubles and 24 RBI in 275 plate appearances. That’s solid compared to your average catcher, but he definitely could’ve been much better in that department. We all know how powerful he is.
And excluding those 21 extra-base hits, his numbers were quite atrocious. He slashed .195/.247/.355 with 94 strikeouts (34%) before losing his job to Josh Phegley and eventually hitting the disabled list to get shoulder surgery.
But what Flowers has always been able to do well, even during his disastrous 2013 season, is handle the pitching staff. And that is exactly why he’ll be the starter on Opening Day on the 31st.
The White Sox’ starters are all going through vital stages of their careers. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana need hold of hitters from “figuring them out,” a fully healthy and confident John Danks needs to prove he belongs, and Erik Johnson would love to start off his career with a solid rookie campaign. Management clearly feels Flowers is the guy they want working those guys through these crucial times, and that’s something that fans need to realize and begin to appreciate.
Many, including myself, have called for an external solution (like Francisco Cervelli of late). We’re not going to get that right now, so it’s time to accept what we have in Flowers. Don’t get me wrong – the time will come, whether via the draft, the summer hot stove, or over the next offseason, for a long-term solution to be brought in.
Being a fan, it’s quite understandable how seeing Flowers as the everyday guy again is frustrating. But considering that there’s no catcher of the future currently in the organization, and he’s best suited to keep the team’s young hurlers heading in the right direction, Flowers is currently the internal option you should want to see.
But just because Flowers should handle the staff well this year doesn’t mean the other parts to his game aren’t important and don’t need much improvement. They do.
So in the numbers game that is baseball, what do we need to see from Flowers in 2013, and what would be a huge success for him?
Let’s say Flowers plays a fully-healthy season and plays about 115 games for the Sox. In around 400 plate appearances, I’d want to see 14-17 home runs and 20 doubles, which would come naturally if he can hit in the .220-.230 neighborhood. The strike outs are sure to come for him, but in a lineup with so many guys you can say that about, it’d be great if he could go down on strikes one out of every four plate apperances instead of one in every three, like he has throughout his career.
Even if it’s just spread over a few hot streaks throughout the season, Flowers’ offensive potential is enticing. Everybody can now agree that he is not going to reach that potential, but tapping into it at all will improve his numbers drastically.
Even with an improved season, Flowers is not the catcher of the future. But, like we said, we don’t have anybody currently in the organization that fits that bill. So what Tyler can do for this team, in addition to adding the young pitching staff, is ease the future catching situation.
If he can hold his own, Rick Hahn won’t be ‘that guy’ on the open market constantly begging for a young catcher … a catcher drafted early on won’t be rushed up … and we’ll all be able to put down our pitchforks while Flowers helps the pitchers develop.
So if you’re one of the many that can’t stand the idea of Flowers going into another season as the team’s starting catcher, you can rejoice in the fact that exciting young options will be brought in soon enough. But in the meantime, you may as well try to appreciate him for the ways in which he can help this team, which are probably more significant than you may think.
Photo Credit: Brian Kersey, Getty Images