Prior to last season, many questioned whether Tyler Flowers should even be on the White Sox roster -- let alone as the starting catcher -- and were incredulous that he was essentially gifted the starting job. A productive 2014 campaign, however, largely erased the bad taste left by his poor and injury-riddled 2013 season. While there will be a fight behind him for the back-up spot, once again, Flowers enters spring training the undisputed starter.
While most focused on his near-league average offensive line of .241/.297/.396 (.308 wOBA) -- and the changes he made to achieve it (glasses anyone?) -- Flowers also made some adjustments to his defense.
Flowers is a self-described "big student of pitch-framing techniques." Since he only began catching "full-time" in 2008, though, Flowers didn't have catchers he looked up to growing up. But he was lucky that Brian McCann was already in the majors with the Braves so he had someone in the organization to look up to. "I thought McCann was a good pitch-framer and it turns out the stats support that."
Obviously, Flowers is aware of the revolution in catcher defensive statistics that has been occurring the last few years. "I don't look at the numbers as much as the ranking. Whether you agree with the exact calculation of the stats or not, if you're at the bottom it probably needs to be addressed."
His self-assessment, however, wasn't as accurate as his thoughts on McCann. "I thought getting the low strike was a strength for me and I was surprised to see that I was only average," Flowers said. He's worked on improving that aspect of his game the past few years.
Flowers says, "The breaking ball low is the most consistently missed pitch [by umpires]." To help his pitchers get that pitch more, halfway through the 2014 season he made an adjustment. "With no one on base, I started to drop to one knee and I saw immediate improvement in the stats on getting the low strike."
He observed that one of the reasons the low breaking ball is not called a strike is because of the perception of the 40,000 people in the stands. "A pitch may touch the strike zone but, if it ends up in the dirt, that's a tough call to make."
While the catcher certainly influences whether a pitch is called a strike or not, the pitcher plays a role, too -- or at least who the pitcher is does. "The more tenured pitchers, the name pitchers get more calls."
Flowers thinks that at least one White Sox starting pitcher fits that description. "[Chris] Sale exploits that now, getting that inch more off the strike zone."
With the BABIP gods likely to seek recompense for the .355 they granted him last season, his offense is likely to regress in 2015. Solidifying his prior adjustments and making further improvements on defense would be a good way to offset any decline in his offensive value.