Tyler Flowers is 31, a nine-year veteran with a .239 career average and .700 OPS, a catcher who has only twice started as many as 80 games in a season. And he’s cerebral. And maybe a little hardened. So maybe all that was why he was dismissive of the subject when a reporter broached a particular subject Tuesday.
The All-Star game.
Specifically, the possibility that Flowers might force decision-makers to consider him for a spot on the National League All-Star team if he keeps doing what he’s been doing so far this season.
“It’s a political game, you and I both know that’ll never happen,” he said.
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Consider his resume to date this season: Flowers, after going 2-for-3 with two singles and a walk in Monday’s 5-2 win against the Pirates, entered Tuesday with a .360 batting average (31-for-86) and a .476 on-base percentage that was the highest in the majors among 354 players with at least 50 plate appearances.
He didn’t have enough PAs to qualify for batting-title rankings, or else his batting average would rank fourth in the majors. He did, however, have enough PAs to qualify for rankings at his position, and among major league catchers Flowers .366 average and .469 OBP as a catcher – in other words, not while pinch-hitting, DH’ing or playing another position – were easily the best in the majors, the OBP 33 points above Buster Posey’s .436 and the average 22 points ahead of Wellington Castillo’s .344.
Flowers, despite having only two homers, also ranked fifth in slugging percentage as a catcher with a .476 mark, ahead of Astros (and former Braves) veteran Brian McCann’s .462 slugging percentage as a catcher.
“The All-Star game, now that the public controls a lot of it, it’s a popularity contest along with having good numbers,” said Flowers, a Roswell native. “I mean, I think for someone like me the only realistic hope would be as a managerial pick or something. But I’m not too worried about it.”
While Posey, the Giants’ four-time All-Star and former NL MVP, was batting .362 overall, the South Georgia native had played seven games at first base and two as a designated hitter. Flowers has started 24 games at catcher and played no other positions, his only other seven plate appearances coming as a pinch-hitter (1-for-4, three walks).
Flowers doesn’t have the required plate appearances for most rankings because he has split catching duties with veteran Kurt Suzuki, who made his 18th start Tuesday with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitching.
Suzuki had a .357 OBP in his starts and had batted .270 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his past 11 starts before Tuesday.
Between them, Braves catchers had a majors-best .412 OBP, and among NL catchers they had a league-best .300 average and were second in RBIs (27).
“In one sense I’d like to be catching five days a week, in another you can’t argue with success I’ve been having and success Zuke’s been having,” Flowers said. “The consistency with which we’ve done it. Maybe there is something to it. I don’t know, I don’t think either of us is 100 percent happy not playing every day, but then again if it plays like this all year how can we and everyone else not be happy with it. We’ll see. It’s still early, at least on an individual perspective.”
Flowers was drafted by the Braves in 2005 and traded to the White Sox in December 2008 as part of the package that brought Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to Atlanta. After spending all or parts of seven major league seasons with the White Sox, Flowers signed a two-year, $5.3 million contract to return to the Braves in December 2015, a deal that includes a $4 million option for 2018 with a $300,000 buyout.
He took his offense to a new level in his first season with the Braves in 2016, and Flowers gives most of the credit to hitting coaches Kevin Seitzer and assistant Jose Castro.
After batting .229 with no extra-base hits, six RBIs and a .544 OPS in his first 16 games with the Braves through May 12, 2016, Flowers hit .301 (96-for-319) with 21 doubles, 10 homers, 49 RBIs and an .857 OPS in his past 98 games through Monday.
And in his past 68 games going back to June 30, Flowers hit .329 with five homers, 40 RBIs, a .425 OBP and .472 slugging percentage (.897 OPS).
Much has been made recently of the leg kick or left that Flowers adopted in his swing in a game against the Mets on June 18, 2016, a timing mechanism that he’s used since and credits with helping him better catch up with high-velocity fastballs while not sacrificing his ability to hit off-speed pitches. However, Flowers said he already had made big improvements in his overall offense by that point from working on his approach with Braves coaches.
“The leg kick was just part of it,” he said. “Getting around Seitzy and Nachy (Castro) was huge for me, to just develop an approach, a plan. A lot of people go up there with what they think a plan is – and some guys can do it, they can just go up there (thinking), hit a slider – but for me there’s a difference in going up there looking for a slider and knowing what I want to try to do with it. I want to try and hit it off the center field wall – like, that changes everything versus just trying to hit it. That’s a big part of the whole picture. The leg kick just allowed me to black and white, clear-cut define a timing point. You know, where do I need to get to in order to get there and have time to hit 95, 97 (mph fastballs).
“So there’s a number of variables that go into it, but it’s not as easy as just liting your leg. You don’t just lift your leg high and all of a sudden hit pitches and hit velocity. There’s a lot more to it. You’ve got to have a plan with it. That was just something that I was able to jump onboard with, it made sense to me from a timing perspective. But none of that works without an approach, and those guys (Seitzer and Castro) have been huge for me since I got here, just to regain confidence, have a plan, something to hang your hat on a little bit instead of just going up there waylaying it where you think it’s a strike and taking what you think is a ball.”