The catcher position was a surprising area of strength for the Atlanta Braves in 2017 and Tyler Flowers played a big part in that.
What were the expectations?
Flowers inked a two-year, $5 million deal with the Braves in December of 2015 that also included a club-option for 2018. According to FanGraphs, Flowers was worth 1.1 fWAR in 2016 after hitting .270/.357/.420 with eight home runs in 83 games. Atlanta came into 2017 hoping that he would be able to duplicate those results.
Flowers got off to a hot start in 2017 before cooling down the stretch but was able to improve his offensive numbers. Flowers appeared in 99 games in 2017 and hit .281/.378/.445 with 12 home runs. FanGraphs estimated his value at 2.5 wins above replacement. Flowers benefited from a BABIP of .342 but produced solid contact. He was second on the team behind only Freddie Freeman in average exit velocity at 89.4 MPH.
Tyler Flowers 2017 Projections/Stats
|Tyler Flowers (ZiPs)||356||78||15||10||29||.243||.310||.383||.302||1.3|
|Tyler Flowers (2017)||370||89||16||12||41||.281||.378||.445||.358||2.5|
If there is a knock on Flowers it is that he is not regarded as a strong defensive catcher. FanGraphs pegged him at minus-9 defensive runs saved and he threw out 16 of 71 runners on stolen base attempts. He is however regarded as one of the best pitch framers around and was tops in the league in Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs metric at 25.8. According to Statcorner, his framing prowess was even more dramatic, as he was far and away the best framer in baseball, getting about double the “stolen” calls per game (about 2.6) than the next-highest player (Yasmani Grandal, 1.3). Similar to the BP framing runs metric, Statcorner estimates his framing runs above average at 28.1, which is nearly three wins.
If one considers framing, Flowers’ 2017 performance goes from “really good” (2.5 fWAR in 370 PAs) to “insanely good.” Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, which integrates framing, had him as the best catcher in baseball in 2017 (even though he only appeared in 99 games), and a top-15 MLB position player overall.
Unsurprisingly, the Braves picked up Flowers’ $4 million option for 2018. Flowers will turn 32 in January and the hope will again be that he will produce at the plate while helping ease what should be a much younger pitching staff’s transition to the major leagues.
Flowers is coming off of three straight seasons with superior framing stats, and working with Kevin Seitzer has seen him transform from an ineffective hitter into an above-average bat. Even if he regresses a bit from his aggregate 2017 offensive performance, he should be a highly valuable commodity once again, unless age and the catcher position catch up to him.