April 5th, 2013. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Tyler Flowers walked into the batter’s box. The Sox were down 8-7 and Flowers already had two home runs on the year. Before the first pitch, I offered my buddy Dan a prediction. “If Tyler Flowers hits a walk-off grand slam,” I texted, “he will be a drunk t-shirt jersey purchase of mine before the end of the month.”
He promptly struck out. Ah well. Shrugz.
Tyler Flowers and I have an agreement. It’s an agreement that he knows absolutely nothing about, that I haven’t tried to contact him about, nor would he care about if somehow I did manage to contact him about it (it’s an agreement with myself involving Tyler Flowers, is what I’m saying). I will not judge Tyler Flowers’ value by the same criteria I used to judge Pierzynski’s value: offense. Granted, Pierzynski’s 2012 was an anomaly in many ways—35 year old anybody shouldn’t be having a career season, let alone a catcher—but expecting Flowers to attain a more typical AJ slash line was still going to be a big ask for a guy whose best offensive season this decade was a 2011 Charlotte campaign in which he managed .261 average with the benefit of a .350 BABIP. Don’t worry about your bat, my dear fellow Flowers. Your true value, I “assured” him, was behind the plate.
Tyler Flowers’ defense has been his WAR saver in his first two full seasons in the league. Whereas his batting WAR over the last two seasons has been -1.1 and -1.8, and his baserunning WAR is what you’d expect from a catcher, it was his fielding WAR (2.2 in 2011, 5.1 in 2012) that managed to keep his overall WAR in the positives whilst doing backup duty.
Tyler Flowers the starter, unfortunately, has not had much value behind the plate this season. The biggest problem Flowers is having so far this season is with his arm: last season, his total defensive runs saved (DRS) was a solid 5. The season before that, it was a 3. This season, it’s already at a -2. His inability to throw out runners so far this season has been a major factor in his fielding decline. Last season, he managed to throw out runners an impressive 33% of the time. In 2011, he managed roughly 24%. So far this season, Flowers has thrown out baserunners at only a 16% rate, and that comes after he’s thrown out 2 out of the last 4 would-be thieves. All of these things taken in to account, FanGraphs has Flowers’ defensive value at a -1 so far this season, compared to the lofty numbers he managed in backup duty the season before.
Flowers’ defensive output needs to improve if it’s going to compensate for his bat. Offensively, Flowers has not shown very much in the way of potential. His offensive output in the majors has been consistently mediocre. Flowers’ plate discipline is a big part of the problem. His K rate is comparable to Adam Dunn’s, yet his walk rate regressed from about 11% in 2011 to just under 8% in 2012. That walk rate hasn’t shown any signs of improving this season, as Flowers’ walk rate is at a measly 6.6%.
If Tyler Flowers is going to have any value on the White Sox, it’s looking more and more like it’s going to have to come from behind the plate. That makes his defensive regression so far this season so troubling. If his defense doesn’t begin to trend upwards, then Flowers has no value.
*Note: Because I only registered an account with SB Nation yesterday, I had to wait 24 hours before posting this article. I wish I had watched last night’s game with somebody because I was ready to wager some fat stacks on Tyler Flowers hitting that home run. Stacks so fat, you guys.