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2020 Atlanta Braves Player Reviews: Tyler Flowers

The Braves’ backup catcher could be headed elsewhere this offseason.

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One constant over the last few seasons has been the presence of Tyler Flowers as a member of the Braves’ catching group. Whether it was with AJ Pierzynski, Kurt Suzuki, or Travis d’Arnaud, Flowers has been an integral part of the catching batteries that the Braves have employed since 2016 with such a large degree of success.

Well, we have now reached the point where the Braves and Flowers will have to decide whether or not to continue that partnership as Flowers is set to test free agency. Here is a look at how 2020 went for Flowers and what we can realistically expect going forward.

What went right? While Tyler saw his playing time diminish significantly in 2020 with the offensive emergence of Travis d’Arnaud, he was still an elite backup catcher in putting up 0.4 fWAR in just 22 games thanks largely to his excellence as a framer. He also continued to be particularly adept at drawing walks with, for the third straight season, 10% or more of his plate appearances ended in a walk. He also continued to make hard contact despite his offensive output decreasing in the last couple of years. His average exit velocity of 93 mph was his highest since 2016.

What went wrong? Despite a few encouraging peripherals offensively, there were others that were far less encouraging and his overall offensive production continued its decline. For the fourth consecutive season, his wRC+ declined as his 2020 mark settled at 86. He has been a below average hitter for three seasons now, but his walk rate has been able to buoy him. However, his strikeout rate jumped for the third straight season and ended up to 42.5% which is alarmingly high. Despite his offensive production decreasing, there is also reason to believe that he was lucky to be as good as he was offensively as his BABIP of .412 suggests he was a bit lucky to do as well as he did. Finally, while his framing has been his carrying tool for a while now, on a rate basis and based solely on Fangraphs’ framing measure, it appears as though that he is no longer as elite at the skill and that it has steadily declined over the last few seasons.

Outlook for 2021: This is a tricky situation, because while Flowers’ playing time has diminished rightly because of his lack of offensive production and not being the best at controlling the running game, you will struggle to find a better backup catcher in the league than him. If the Braves went into the 2021 season with TdA and Flowers again as the catching battery with the lion’s share of the playing time going to d’Arnaud, the Braves would again have one of the better catching units in the entire league. However, the Braves also have two highly touted catching prospects in William Contreras and Shea Langeliers with Contreras making his debut this year after being pressed into duty early in the season. Both are highly thought of by the Braves and at some point, they will have to see what they have in them. With Flowers decreasing production and the fact that he will be 35 on Opening Day with a lot of miles on him that pretty clearly showing, it wouldn’t be crazy to see the Braves let him move on and take their chances with the younger and cheaper prospect backstops. However, he they do not think any of their prospects are ready or if they want to hedge their bets, don’t be surprised to see the team bring Flowers back as a safety net.

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