Tyler Flowers did not have the season he had in 2017, but he did do enough to warrant an extension from the Braves.
Flowers ran into early season injury trouble which forced his backstop partner Kurt Suzuki into heavy duty for a large part of April and May. When he finally did return his offense was pedestrian at best compared to the last two seasons that saw him post a 110 wRC+ and 118 wRC+ respectively.
However, there was some good news to come out of a rough offensive season for Flowers. For instance, even though his offense wasn’t great, he still was able to post a near MLB average of 95 wRC+ on a .292 BABIP which is well below his output from 2016 (.366) and 2017 (.342). At the same time of Flowers’ drop in luck, his walk percentage saw a nice increase from his past two seasons up to 11.8% in 2018.
All of this is to say that the peripherals suggest Flowers’ numbers might’ve been less than normal just by random chance of bad BABIP luck and from the toll of his injury riddled year rather than a regression. xwOBA supports this idea: his xwOBA fell by only .016 from 2017, but his wOBA fell by .043. Of the 313 hitters with 250 or more PAs in 2018, only 30 underperformed their xwOBA worse than Flowers.
That is good news for the Braves, who were originally set to go into the offseason with no catchers signed. Now they only have to worry about a second catcher or possible upgrade to start with Flowers already solidly in place.
Flowers’ real value isn’t necessarily at the plate as much as it is behind the plate where he ranks among the best in all of baseball at framing and receiving pitches. His arm also apparently improved during the last offseason as Flowers allowed his fewest number of base stealers since 2012 this season. He only posted 1 error over 617 innings played and his advanced defensive stats like defensive runs saved (7) look solid as he continues to be one of the better all-around backstops in the league.
Flowers will almost certainly be a major piece on the roster next season and could possibly even become the full-time starter if the Braves are unable to hit on any other catchers.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? 1.2 fWAR in 296 PAs, to go with some of the best framing in the league. By Baseball Prospectus’ WARP stat, which incorporates pitch framing, Flowers was a top 90 position player in MLB this year, and the vast majority of the players ahead of him in WARP had twice as many PAs as he did in 2018.
Will he be on the roster next year? Yes, he signed a one-year, $4 million extension in late August.
What is he going to do next year? Flowers will be entering his age-33 season and seems likely to put up around 1.5 fWAR in a timeshare, depending on which way the Braves go in terms of getting him a partner. He should also continue to amass a ton of framing value, based on his dedication to that particular craft.
Flowers will be 33 years old next season and he is who he is at this point, but if he can just continue to post 2 WAR seasons behind the plate the Braves will feel very good about their investment. Anything else is just icing on top.
Highlight of 2018: The highlight of Flowers’ season was probably on the day he signed his contract extension. Flowers came to the plate as a pinch hitter later in the day against the Tampa Bay Rays in a game the Braves really needed to win and hit the ball over the wall to put the game out of reach for the Rays.
Lowlight of 2018: His lowlight of this season was most definitely the amount of time he missed due to injuries. Flowers hasn’t always been the healthiest guy during his tenure in Atlanta and only twice in his 10-year career has Flowers ever played over 100 games in a season.