It’s an area the Braves have been fortunate in throughout recent seasons, and especially so in 2020. Whether it was David Ross backing up Brian McCann or Kurt Suzuki trading time with Tyler Flowers, Atlanta has figured out a way to piece together a solid catching tandem.
Speaking of Flowers, he was the clear back-up catcher this season with the addition of Travis d’Arnaud to the squad. Flowers only appeared in 22 of the 60 regular season games in 2020, the first time in his five year tenure with the Braves he has played in less than half of the team’s games.
In spite of that, he still had an important role to play on this team in a contract year.
Inside The Numbers:
Of course all of the sample sizes were much smaller in 2020 because of the shortened season, but Flowers did take a little bit of a step back on offense. His 80 plate appearances yielded a WRC+ of 86, a couple ticks down from the 88 clip he produced last season. Flowers knocked in five runs across the season, and his lone home run came off Matt Shoemaker in a 10-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 4.
He actually got on base a little bit more often this season than in 2019, reaching in 26 of his 80 plate appearances for a .325 clip that narrowly beat out his .319 mark a year prior. On the flip side of that though, he got a little lucky. The Baseball Gods were smiling down on him this season with a BABIP of .412, so it’s fair to expect some regression to the mean in that regard wherever he ends up in 2021.
The running game is where he really struggled in 2020, though. Of the 17 stolen bases that were attempted while Flowers was behind the plate, 15 of them were successful. That’s a successful caught stealing rate of 11.8%, or in other words: really, really bad! He still finished with a defensive runs saved of +1 though, largely due to his elite pitch framing skills.
Put it all together and you get a 0.4 WAR season in 22 games, which prorates out to roughly a WAR of 1.5 if he had been given the opportunity to play his requisite 80-90 games in a normal season.
A Quiet October:
One of the biggest subplots of the postseason for the Braves was Flowers’ disappearance. D’arnaud started all 12 games of the postseason behind the plate, with the only two appearances Flowers coming in the 13th inning of the first win against the Reds and the final seven innings of garbage time in the 15-3 game three loss to the Dodgers.
In a postseason without any off days in the middle of the series, Brian Snitker elected to continue to play his starting catcher day after day. The increased workload might have taken its toll on d’Arnaud; he had just a .460 OPS in the NLCS and was 4-for-23 at the plate in the series.
Could playing Flowers every other day or even once every three days have changed things a little bit? We’ll never know. But we do know Flowers spent almost the entire postseason riding the pine, and that could be weighing on his mind with d’Arnaud under contract for 2021 and his own free agency looming.
Obviously, the Braves have their starting catcher locked up. But the backup role is still very much up for grabs, and there are plenty of contenders. Alex Jackson and William Contreras both got brief opportunities in the majors this season, but is either player ready to make the jump as a full-time backup for what (as far as we know) will be a full 162 games?
If the Braves deem either catcher as ready to play 80-90 big league games next season in lieu of d’Arnaud, it doesn’t make much sense to bring back Flowers. They will have already established a preference for a younger, cheaper option and can delegate free agency dollars elsewhere.
But if the Braves go the other route, and decided Jackson and Contreras might need more time catching in Gwinnett or Mississippi? Flowers could be a serviceable back-up catching option. He’s not going to light the world on fire, but you don’t need your back-up catcher to be the second coming of Johnny Bench.
A wRC+ in the 80s hitting in the bottom third of your lineup with solid pitch framing for a staff full of young starters is more than fine as a second option for d’Arnaud.
It’s up to the front office to determine if Flowers can provide those things at a team-friendly price.
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