Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What do we make of Tyler Flowers' recent surge?

It's no secret I'm not a Tyler Flowers fan, but I'm also not afraid to give credit where credit is due.

The White Sox catcher has been red-hot over the past month, and he was the player most responsible for Chicago's rain-shortened 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.

Flowers went 3-for-3 with a triple, a game-tying home run and two-out, two-run single that put the Sox ahead to stay in the bottom of the sixth inning. Heck, if the rains hadn't come, he might have gotten one more at-bat with a chance to hit for the cycle. He fell a double short of accomplishing that feat.

As recently as July 8, Flowers was posting a miserable .219/.278/.302 slash line. He was striking out at absurd rates and was providing almost no power -- at that point of the season, he had just five home runs and five doubles. In the past, Flowers' ability to hit the long ball was one of his few selling points, but even that was noticeably absent the first half of this season.

But on July 9, Flowers switched from contact lenses to glasses. Coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, he's been the second-best hitter on the Sox since -- behind only July's AL Player of the Month, Jose Abreu.

Since that date, Flowers has posted an impressive .390/.438/.695 slash. The power has returned as well. During that same span, he has hit seven doubles -- more than he hit the first three months of the season combined -- three home runs and the aforementioned triple.

He is striking out 23.4 percent of the time during this current hot streak, which doesn't seem like much until you consider Flowers has struck out in 34.3 percent of his plate appearances during his major league career. That 23.4 percent figure represents a significant improvement over his career rate.

Over his last 12 games, Flowers is hitting .452 with a .738 OPS. We all know he won't continue at this rate -- nobody can sustain that pace over the long haul, not even Abreu. The question is whether Flowers can become more consistent and eliminate the pathetic cold streaks where he can't even put the ball in play.

Have the glasses been a difference-maker for him? Only time will tell, and Flowers' recent run has made him one of the storylines to watch for the final two months of the season.

Just a month ago, Flowers was well on his way to playing himself out of the starting job, and perhaps out of the Sox organization entirely. His recent surge, hitting for both average and power, is enough to give Sox' brass pause. Has Flowers finally figured it out at the plate?

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has a lengthy shopping list for this offseason. Up until this point, you would have to say catcher would be on it, along with about four bullpen arms, a starting pitcher, a second baseman, a left-handed power bat and a corner outfielder.

Flowers' season slash of .252/.309/.379 with 115 strikeouts in 328 plate appearances is not good enough to guarantee him a spot on next year's club. However, if Flowers can hit .260 or .270 with some pop and a reasonable K rate over a "prove it" final two months, Hahn might be able to justify taking a chance on him again for the 2015 season based upon a trend of improvement.

If Hahn can cross catcher off his offseason shopping list, he can focus more of his available resources on revamping a Sox pitching staff that has holes in it like Swiss cheese. When you think about it from that perspective, it sure would be nice if those eyeglasses really are the difference for Flowers.


  1. Flowers' overall batting line of .252/.309/.379 is almost exactly what MLB catchers this year have hit as a whole (.250/.310/.385). Probably not coincidentally, Flowers and Nieto have combined to give the Sox the 16th-best production from catchers in MLB with a 690 OPS, just a few points behind the Yankees (.693) and a couple points ahead of the Phillies (.688), Royals (.687), Tigers (.687) and Blue Jays (.685).

    At a time when offensive levels are declining, the bar is still just that much lower for catchers, especially when you take out the guys who are extremely good outliers like Jonathan Lucroy, and other guys having what are likely fluky-good season (Kurt Suzuki, Devin Moscaro).

    Since the Sox already have Flowers in hand, and he's still in his cheap years of arbitration, I think it's a safe bet he'll be back at least as a backup, and unless he completely nosedives or the Sox find better alternative, he'll probably return as the starter.

    I'm not saying the Sox can't stand to improve the position. I'm just skeptical that an obvious improvement is out there for the taking unless they want to part with some minor-league talent or overpay Russell Martin if he makes it to free agency.

    As a side note, Nieto has been a pleasant surprise in holding his own at the plate. His defense still needs a lot of work, and I expect he'll be getting that work at AAA next season.

  2. A month ago, he was significantly below league average and well on his way to playing himself out of the starting position. He could revert to his bad habits again, in which case the Sox would be fools not to consider alternatives. But, if he can hold the line and be league average offensively between now and the end of the season, he probably will be back as the starter since the Sox have so many other holes to fill.

    I don't think I'd throw millions at Russell Martin, and the free-agent crop at that position is rarely strong.

    Nieto has done well, all things considered. The Sox could do worse for a backup catcher. He just needs to play more, and unfortunately the Rule 5 stuff prevents him from going down to AAA and working on the holes in his game. I imagine he'll be the starter in Charlotte next year.