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The new and improved Tyler Flowers

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Tyler Flowers has weirdly become a contact hitter. So far it’s working out, but it may not stay that way.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Hitting home runs at the expense of striking out more often is all the rage in baseball. Hitters are increasingly more satisfied with settling for the three true outcomes: walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Players like Yonder Alonso and Scott Schebler have adopted a more optimal launch angle for home runs to fuel their breakout seasons. It appears to be a successful strategy, especially in an age of baseball where strikeouts aren’t treated as egregiously as they have in the past. The pro-launch angle revolution group would push for any beefier player to change his approach to hit fly balls, leading to home runs. The very beefy Tyler Flowers will have none of that nonsense.

Flowers’ career is an interesting one. Performance-wise, it’s easily split into three distinct sections. The first four full years of his career were all with the White Sox. They were characterized by a high strikeout rate and abysmal batting average in exchange for a little bit of power. The next two years were split evenly between the White Sox and Braves. Despite having better results by basic metrics in his season with the Braves, he dramatically reduced his strikeouts and power in his final season in Chicago. The final sector of his career is the impressive campaign he’s begun in 2017.

Small sample size bells may be going off in your head. After all, Flowers has only stepped to the plate 134 times this season. So yes, we must proceed with caution. With that said, the rest of this article assumes that Flowers’ new approach in 2017 is one that will stick around for the duration of the season.

Let’s start off with some baseline numbers. This season Flowers is hitting .363/.463/.469, which translates to a career low .106 ISO. His .452 BABIP suggests that he’s been the beneficiary of some luck in the field. Perhaps that average and OBP will drop as part of BABIP regression, but the average and OBP alone isn’t what marks a difference for Flowers.

Strikeout Rate and ISO

2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
K% 34.1% 28.4% 19.4%
ISO 0.179 0.134 0.106
Data via Fangraphs

Unlike many of his beefier comrades in baseball, Flowers has traded power for fewer strikeouts. He was on his way to doing so in his final year with the White Sox and first year with the Braves. He has moved to an even more extreme approach this season. Diving deeper into the plate discipline numbers, the real change can be seen. Once again, the three sectors of his career are useful in showing the changes he has made.

Plate Discipline

2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
O-Swing% 32.1% 28.4% 24.7%
Z-Swing% 69.4% 69.1% 72.0%
O-Contact% 48.8% 53.0% 67.1%
Z-Contact% 76.2% 82.9% 85.5%
Contact% 66.7% 73.7% 80.2%
Data via Fangraphs

Flowers is showing tremendous discipline, especially compared to his past career numbers. He’s swinging less at pitches outside the zone while swinging more at the ones in the zone. Even better, he’s making contact at a better rate on pitches both in and out of the zone. Rather than being a free-swinger gambling on making hard contact, Flowers has narrowed his focus to simply making contact. That approach has helped push him to a .328 TAv, which is a career-high.

His contact improvement can be seen even more starkly when looking simply at his swing and whiff percentages against fastballs. Fastballs have always done Flowers in. They’re the key reason why he went from a strong offensive prospect to a defense-first catcher in the big leagues. He simply couldn’t catch up to the heat. He’s swinging at about a career average amount of fastballs at 45.7% in 2017. The difference is that his whiff percentage has gone from a career average 14.6% to 9.0% this season.

Flowers doesn’t seem to care that his home runs and overall power have dipped this season. He’s simply getting on base. Looking at his body alone, it would seem like a waste of beef. But Flowers has tried the power approach before, and it made him a well below average hitter. The league is moving towards more home runs, but Flowers is happy to do his own thing.

HR/PA

2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
2011-2014 2015-2016 2017
League 0.0249 0.0286 0.0322
Flowers 0.039 0.025 0.022
Data via Fangraphs

In a baseball world where home runs are smashed left and right, it’s hard to find a contact hitter. It’s even harder to find one that looks like Flowers. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad approach for the thick backstop. He’s become a better hitter by adjusting his approach to include more contact and less power, reaching a career-high 158 wRC+ so far this season. Sure, some regression is likely to come. However, the removal of swing-and-miss from his game suggests that he’ll continue to find some success in his new attempt to attack pitchers. Flowers toiled for years attempting to hit home runs while striking out a ton. He’s moved away from the status quo and turned himself into a strong offensive asset for the Braves.


All stats current through Sunday, June 4th.

Ryan Schultz is a writer at Beyond the Box Score, BP Wrigleyville, and BP Southside. Follow him on twitter @rschultzy20.