Atlanta Braves: Tyler Flowers has bloomed - you just haven't noticed

The Atlanta Braves have had one of the best catchers in the league since 2016. His craft doesn't involve copious amounts of towering home runs but consists of subtle greatness, inconspicuous to the untrained eye.

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Tyler Flowers (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Tyler Flowers was born in Roswell, Georgia. He grew up an Atlanta Braves fan and was drafted by the Braves…twice.

That’s right, the Braves drafted Flowers out of high school in 2004 in the twenty-seventh round. Flowers went onto Chipola College in Florida for a year before the Braves drafted him again in 2005.

Growing up, Flowers lived in Marietta, GA. He spent his days in Shaw Park with his family playing baseball and other sports right there in Cobb County.

Flowers’ dad coached him until he reached high school. He starred at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, GA before being drafted by the Braves the first time.

Staying Home... for a While

Tyler Flowers started with the Atlanta Braves organization in 2005 when he was drafted in the thirty-third round. Flowers, who was born in Roswell, Georgia, was tickled to be drafted by the hometown Bravos.

He made it to their A+ level before being traded to the White Sox in 2008 as part of a huge deal bringing in Javier Vazquez.   In 2009, he began the season in Double-A for Chicago.  Flowers was promoted to Triple-A for thirty-one games and made his debut with the big-league club later that season.

He played ten games with the White Sox in 2009, eight games in 2010, and made one last stop in Triple-A in 2011 before becoming a fixture with where the big boys play.

Flowers played with the White Sox through the 2015 season. His finest campaign came when he played in a career-high 127 games, logging 407 at-bats and crushing 15 home runs and 50 RBI as a backstop. His .241 average was by far the highest of his career.

Following the 2015 season, Flowers was non-tendered and granted free agency.  Shortly thereafter, he found himself signing back home with the rebuilding Atlanta Braves.

Flowers has been a different player since his return to Atlanta.

Before and After

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Tyler Flowers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Prior to his solid 2014 season, the prior three seasons' resulted in batting averages that looked like this:

  • 2011: .209
  • 2012: .213
  • 2013: .195

Flowers has been his best self since signing with the Braves.

  • Time with White Sox: .223/.289/.376
  • Time with Braves:       .254/.350/.412 (Above average)
  • Average Catcher '19:  .238./.309/.408

Clearly, Flowers has played his best ball with the Braves the past few years. He has also been well above average in on-base and average.

This doesn't even mention his defensive prowess, which we'll get into later.

Let’s compare Tyler Flowers to the average catcher from 2019.

Walk Percentage

Average Catcher ‘19:  8.3%
Tyler Flowers ’19: 10.0%

Flowers also posted an 11.8% walk-rate in 2018 with the Braves. His walk rate over the past two seasons sits at 10.8%. This guy knows the strike zone. 

OPS

Average Catcher ’19: .717
Tyler Flowers ’19: .733

Since Tyler Flowers joined the Braves in 2016, here's where the Braves' catchers rank compared to the rest of the National League (various Fangraphs data follows).

NL Catchers 2016-2019 - wRC+

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers - 108
  2. Chicago Cubs - 106
  3. San Francisco Giants - 105
  4. Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies - 99
  5. Atlanta Braves - 98

NL Catchers 2016-2019 Batting Average

  1. San Francisco Giants: .274
  2. Miami Marlins: .265
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: .261
  4. Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies: .257
  5. Atlanta Braves: .254

NL Catchers 2016-2019 On-Base Percentage

  1. Chicago Cubs: .342
  2. San Francisco Giants: .339
  3. Atlanta Braves: .334

In 2017, Flowers led Braves' catchers in plate appearances and that same season, Braves' catchers led the league in rWAR from the position.

In 2018, Braves' catchers finished eighth in the Major Leagues in rWAR.

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De-Fense!

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Tyler Flowers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Flowers has accumulated an impressive sixty-seven defensive-runs saved in his career.

As far as pitch framing, Flowers is one of the best in the game, if not the best.

Pitch Framing explained - Pitch framing is a statistic you can find on Fangraphs called rSZ, which stands for "strike zone runs saved."

I'll provide you with a brief explanation but if you want to study the minutia of the statistic please refer to the link provided in the previous sentence. It does an amazing job of breaking the stat down with a microscope.

To figure "strike zone runs saved" Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) graphs every pitch based on location, count, and various circumstantial information. They utilize the current percentages of that particular pitch being called a ball or strike and credit the catcher for framing techniques that get the extra strike calls.

The metric also dings the catchers who consistently get bad calls in these situations.

With the number of pitches these catchers receive, guys who can consistently get the borderline calls for their pitchers can be very valuable.

With that being said, let's take a look at where Tyler Flowers maximizes his value to the team.

According to Fangraphs here's how to rate rSZ:

  • Gold Glove Caliber:  +10
  • Above Average:        +5
  • Average:                        0
  • Below Average:         -5
  • Poor:                            -10

Here's how Tyler Flowers has done the past few years. 

  • 2014:    +8 (Above average and close to gold glove)
  • 2015:    +16 (Holy Crap)
  • 2016:    +14 (Wow)
  • 2017:    +20 (Excuse me?)
  • 2018:    +10 (Gold Glove)   
  • 2019:    +10 (He has cool glasses)

As you can see, Tyler Flowers excels...Nay! He is one of the league's superheroes in this area.

Flowers has been the absolute best in the league since he joined the Braves at age thirty in 2016.

Since 2016 Flowers has logged fifty-four strike zone runs saved, which is good for best in the Major Leagues.

Second place? Not even close. Shut your mouth.

Allow me to provide you with a visual of rSZ since 2016. 

  1. Tyler Flowers (2727.0 Inn): 54 rSZ
  2. Yasmani Grandal (4086.2 Inn) 45 rSZ
  3. Austin Hedges (2533.0 Inn) 40 rSZ
  4. Christian Vazquez (2731.2 Inn) 32 rSZ
  5. Roberto Perez (2505.2 Inn) 28 rSZ

Flowers has been the best the Major Leagues have had to offer over the past few seasons.

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The 2020 Flowers

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Tyler Flowers (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The Braves are paying Tyler Flowers $4 million to share time behind the plate with Travis d'Arnaud, who broke out with the Rays in 2019.

The Braves will have $12 million invested in their two catchers in 2020. Between Flowers' above-average bat (at the catcher position) and his stellar defense combined with the middle-of-the-order bat Travis d'Arnaud proved to be for the 96-win Rays last season, there's a good chance the Braves' backstops could end up tops in the MLB in WAR in 2020.

We can expect more veteran leadership from behind the plate. We can expect great defense, despite a few passed balls. We'll go ahead and address the elephant in the room now. Tyler Flowers led the league with sixteen passed balls last season.

To put that in perspective, Brian McCann finished with seven passed balls. If the only knock on the guy is he allowed nine more passed balls than his counterpart last season, then I think we can take the bad with the great.

We'd like to see those passed balls decrease, but if it's a part of what makes him great at his game then we'll have to deal with it every now and then.

Over the past four seasons, Flowers has been an above-average hitting catcher for the Braves and has been one of the best defensive catchers on the planet.

To have a player like this as our number-two catcher is an insane luxury. It's the type of luxury and depth you see on a World Series-caliber team.

The guy grew up in Cobb County and finds himself playing the best professional baseball of his life in Cobb County. He's a player we should all continue support. He's brought a lot to the Braves already and we should expect more of the same from the reliable, hometown-player.

Plus... he has awesome glasses!

Next: Wanna bet the Braves trade for Nolan Arenado?

Are you as excited as I am to watch Tyler Flowers frame pitches in 2020!?!