A rumor-inspired Exit Interview for Tyler Flowers
By James Fegan
That he looks silly bobbling this ball probably has more to do with the sport being silly than Flowers. // Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.
The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.
We didn’t forget about Daniel Webb, but Tyler’s in the news on account of the deadline to tender him arbitration coming at midnight eastern time on Monday, and Scott Merkin relaying Tyler’s own updates about the White Sox pondering the merits of offering him…some sort of contract.
Tyler Flowers – Bad catcher or simply an injured below-average catcher? Better question: How much would you pay to find the answer to the first question?
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 28 (I’ve met younger men!)
Contract: Well, that’s the thing. The White Sox have to decide whether to offer him arbitration by the end of Monday night. MLB Trade Rumors estimated his arbitration figure at $1 million. Think about that: a million dollars for a year of working, assuming you include all the training and rehabbing as part of it. As bad as you might feel that Tyler Flowers is relative to the rest of the major leagues, being that bad for as long as he’s been is worth a million dollars for a season of work, even in a market with arbitrary wage controls! Tyler Flowers is one of the top 60 in his employment field and thus makes lots of money.
Relevant stats: 84 games, 275 plate appearances, .195/.247/.355, 59 wRC+, 5.1 BB%, 34.2 K%, .160 ISO, threw out 16 of 52 (24%) basestealers, 8 passed balls, 24 wild pitches.
Interpretation: Very poor offense and very poor defense, so the intangibles had better be on point.
Emblematic split: Received just 40 second half plate appearances, and struck out in half of them and posted a .497 OPS.
Pre-season expectations: My expectations were modest, given Flowers’ career averages…
"“Flowers–with his plus power, good patience, superior defensive footwork, and garish strikeout rate that will make league-average offensive performance his sisiphean mountain.”"
…But man oh man did I hope for this to work. The breathless early-season coverage of mundane mechanical adjustments seems embarrassing now, since a man’s foot waggle means little if his strike zone is wider than the Amazon.
Quote of the year: ‘‘It obviously wasn’t what I hoped for or expected.’’
Tyler’s story: It started out great, but perhaps too great. Rather than play encouragingly well and sustain it, Flowers began the year in an obviously fluky manner that would obviously be corrected when he stopped hitting home runs in every single game.
His Opening Day bomb in front of one of the biggest home crowd the team would see all year was the difference in a 1-0 Chris Sale/James Shields pitcher’s duel, and his second blast in the second game of the year preserved innocent notions that Earvin Santana was still a homer-prone disaster. However, once the Royals left town, Flowers was flung headlong into a 1-23 slump where he struck out 11 times. The struggles were enough to inspire the always encouraging mid-April batting stance overhaul. His casual foot-in-the-bucket look led to another home run and some hard contact in a road series in Toronto, but the results quickly slid along with his back foot.
He slipped under a .300 OBP on April 24, he slid under a .700 OPS the next day, and he never returned to either benchmark.
It was foreseeable that Flowers’ hitch and contact problems would keep him from being an offensive asset. It was less foreseeable what Flowers’ own awareness of this issue would produce. Seemingly not content to die slow, Flowers tried to head off his strikeout problems with aggression. Changing his approach didn’t magically change his skill set, and since the increased frequency of his swinging was dedicated almost entirely on pitches out of the strike zone, the fallout was predictable and brutal: less walks, less power, all the strikeouts.
This interpretation of Flowers’ struggles fits with the narrative of a Jeff Manto-led offense that struggled with the concept of plate discipline up and down the lineup, but he could have just as easily been pressing in his first shot at a full-time role, or compensating for a lingering shoulder injury that ended his season at the start of September, to which he refused to assign any blame.
He reached base on this. // Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The injury is perhaps better used to explain Flowers’ disappointing year throwing out runners, which regressed in turn with the entire team’s poor attempts to stop opposing teams’ running games, or maybe could help excuse Flowers allowing more passed balls than several American League teams despite appearing in only 84 games. His season performance was so poor that it’s only reasonable to assume it was below his true talent level, but also so poor that it stamps out interest in what that level is, if the floor can even be this ghastly.
Josh Phegley absorbed almost all of Flowers’ playing time in his second half, which may have worked in Flowers’ favor. Flowers’ framing and pitcher gameplanning being reliably competent didn’t seem relevant until Phegley came along.
At least Tyler knew how to bookend a season. His final game before his surgery announcement saw him club a tantalizingly gorgeous blast well over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park.
Assessment: “Trying to negotiate a contract to avoid arbitration” is a nebulous concept, since it’s what every arbitration-eligible player does. The question with the White Sox and Flowers is whether that contract will be a stand-in for his estimated reward, a contract that avoids giving him a raise, or a minor league deal that keeps him in the organization but acknowledges that his opportunity to be much more than a White Sox backup has gone by the boards.
The White Sox cannot enter a new season with Flowers and Phegley in tow and expect to have much better than the worst catching production in all of baseball. But with Brian McCann off the board and Jarrod Saltalamacchia not without his warts, opportunities to install above-average production in this slot for years to come are remote, or the stuff of theoretical trades.
The Phil Hughes signing, and the Jason Vargas deal as well, to be openly cynical, provided glimpses of what it looks like when teams with long odds of immediate winning and limited budgets pay up to secure non-awful but far from good production to shore up trouble spots, and it is not pretty. Depending on how the White Sox view 2014, bringing in a veteran catcher to just be less agonizing to watch than Flowers was ranges between window dressing and truly pointless. The only difference is that the White Sox can afford window dressing, and made a point of saying their fans deserved it, at least in lieu of a team to actually be proud of.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan