The backup catcher is always a really tough position to evaluate. Itâ€™s tough enough to find a starting catcher youâ€™re comfortable with, much less a backup capable of giving him a breather every so often without the production completely dropping off.
Itâ€™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 dâ€™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 teamâ€™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 itâ€™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. Thatâ€™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 Flowersâ€™ disappearance. Dâ€™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 dâ€™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? Weâ€™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 dâ€™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 dâ€™Arnaud, it doesnâ€™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. Heâ€™s not going to light the world on fire, but you donâ€™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 dâ€™Arnaud.
Itâ€™s up to the front office to determine if Flowers can provide those things at a team-friendly price.
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JC’d, from AL
@23 – That never gets old, AAR. Makes me laugh every time!
To return to the Riley thread/discussion, would it be prudent to amp back up the Nolan Arenado trade suggestions?
Thanks, Ryan. And for back-up catcher, I can see the Braves bringing back Flowers on a team friendly contract, but I’d rather someone else. I know I won’t get my wish of Realmuto (pushing d’Arnaud to back up) so we might as well go with Contreras. It’s cheaper and pretty much a wash.
On a maybe outside the box thing, Jason Castro? I like having a left handed bat in the catching group.
However, you have 3 catchers on the borderline of MLB right now. Possible you trade one. Jackson is running out of “options,” but also has the least favorable set of apparent skills. But even if you trade Jackson (not getting at what you can get, just getting something for the milk before it spoils), I think either Contreras or Langeliers could handle 40 starts and a few pinch hit appearances. And yes, it is possible another veteran catcher can out produce them, but if you pay 2.5 mill extra for your back up catcher might that not be better spent on a bench bat, a #4 reliever, a utility player?
Mark me down for preferring to let Flowers walk and have Contreras/Jackson back up D’Arnaud next season. I think Contreras has the defensive tools to be a MLB starter already, and while I don’t expect much from him at the plate in 2021 I think he’s got the goods to be a solid contributor there as well eventually. I’m far less convinced that Alex Jackson could make it as a starting catcher, but given his age and the fact that he’s paid his dues, so to speak, in the high minors, I could see the Braves start 2021 with AJax as the #2 C in Atlanta and park Contreras in AAA to continue to improve his game (and avoid racking up service time before they think he’s ready to fully contribute).
@3 Langeliers hasn’t played above A ball yet, I’d prefer the Braves give him the entirety of 2021 in the minors. 2022 may be a Contreras/Langeliers catching duo.
I’d like to see one of our young catchers get a shot this year, but I just don’t see it happening with the lack of an MILB season in 2020. Luckily for the Braves, there are a TON of good backup catchers on the market and my first choice would be Mike Zunino. Seitzer could do wonders with him.
Jackson as back-up catcher and continue to develop Contreras in the minors.
The backup catcher gets to start a game or two a week, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t go ahead and promote Contreras to that position. I could argue that he’s gonna learn more doing that than sitting in the minors all year. I sometimes don’t understand the fascination with keeping emergent MLB players in the minors and staffing your bench with a collection of bums. Is there even any evidence for the “He needs to play every day against crappy compeition, otherwise he’ll start to stagnate and be completely ruined” line of thinking?
On Arenado…I mean, sure. Start the trade talks back up. I’d certainly take him over Riley. There’s no way it’s gonna happen, though.
File this under “not my money” — let’s go get Arenado, absolutely. I think Bryant is marginally likelier just because of how much AA hates long-term money commitments.
This all depends on how d’Arnaud’s bat turns out in 2021, but he could very well be a choice for DH 60-70 games of the season (assuming DH is there….which I’m not sure it will be). If that’s the case, I cannot fathom that they’ll put faith in their young catchers to catch 60-70 games in the season. For me, that time will be later in 2021 should they prove worthy.
We all saw what happened to d’Arnaud’s bat when he had 0 rest. Snitker has GOT to learn from those mistakes.
On a cost basis, d’Arnaud is dirt cheap as a starter, and Flowers probably comes back as a dirt cheap backup. I think Flowers has done fine. I’d hope that d’Arnaud gets 120 starts next year and Flowers gets the 40 that tend to go to backup catchers. I don’t think this is a position where I’d make big changes.
@1 I’m starting to think that that may be the only way Atlanta could significantly improve their roster would be to punt on Riley at 3B or Dansby at SS, and land an Arenado or Lindor. And if you traded the incumbent in the deal, then a deal like Dansby, Waters, and Wilson would be a nice conversation starter to get someone like Lindor. Or Riley, Waters, and Wilson for Arenado and a boatload of cash.
Remember Branch Rickey’s mantra: It is better to trade a player one year too soon than one year too late. Same applies to Flowers and potential back up catchers (and to Bryant). In the free agency / trade context it goes to “likelihood of better performance.” Obviously the Braves minor league staff has better info to figure out just what Jackson, Contreras and Langeliers can and cannot do. But, for me, if I figure the median outcome of performance level for a league minimum youngster is almost equal to the output of a “veteran,” I would rather let the young un play.
Then there’s also the problem that Flowers brings almost nothing. He brings something in the proverbial veteran presence for our young pitching staff, and that’s certainly a notch in his favor. But as far as everything else, I’m not sure what he has left to offer. His bat sucks, his pitch framing (which I continue not to care about because it shouldn’t even be a thing) is undermined by his crappy overall defense, some of which seems to happen because he’s so worried about pitch framing (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen him commit a passed ball because he was trying so hard to frame the pitch that he alligator-armed it, I’d at least be able to go buy dinner on the house tonight)… . I’m aware that I’ve been a card-carrying member of the anti-Flowers faction for awhile, but even so, I can’t see much objective use for him as is. Maybe if we were about to give the starting job to Contreras, but not with d’Arnaud on the team.
Yeah, I’d kind of rather hand Flowers a job as a coach in the organization. He looks pretty much like toast. The real question is whether the kids have any book learning left to do on the farm. The last thing they need is to play a couple days a week and ride the pine two-thirds of the time.
If we have money to spend, I’d not bring back Flowers. If we don’t have much money to spend, I’d bring back Flowers. See, it’s just tough without knowing really where the market is.
@8 – It seems logical that no days off affected d’Arnaud’s bat, but I don’t believe there is a big enough sample such that it couldn’t simply be random variability either. I don’t think it’s so clear cut that playing d’Arnaud every game was a mistake relative to letting Tyler Flowers start a playoff or World Series game.
See, that’s the thing. Why is that the last thing they need? Why isn’t learning on the job as a backup catcher in the major leagues preferable to playing every day against crappy competition and catching probably Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller and a bucket of organizational slop? That’s the conventional wisdom, but learning on the job in the major leagues seems like a better idea to me. There seems to be this thought that you have to play every day or the wheels completely fall off. I don’t get it.
And in the case of the catcher, “playing every day” is a bit of a misnomer. In all likelihood, you’re only taking the workload from a third of the games to two-thirds of the games by stashing him in Triple-A. It’s not like he’ll actually even be playing every day.
I don’t really see the incentive to turning one of the best catching prospects in the game (Contreras) into a MLB backup when he’ll be 23 and has only gotten 219 PAs above A-ball. That guy needs to spend a full season in AA/AAA before we’d ever consider doing that, and even then, he needs to be in a situation, just like every other prospect, to land the full-time gig when he’s ready.
I feel like Jackson is starting to get a little old to be a prospect, but he’d still be a guy I’d let play at AAA and keep working on his bat. We all agree that catchers take longer to develop offensively, and you’re not going to get any offensive development with them sitting on the bench and catching once a week.
@17 is about where I’m at, too. If we believe Jackson can’t develop any more on the farm, then sure, throw him to the wolves in the majors, and if he still can’t hack it, DFA him — he’s not doing anybody any good in the organization if he can’t grow in the minors or produce in the majors. But as long as he still has developing to do, let’s get him some consistent playing time.
I feel like I’ve already had my say on this issue. Unless you think Flowers will sign a substantial discount from last year’s salary, he’s not a cheap backup catcher. Last year, he was the second highest paid backup catcher in all of baseball, after Chirinos. https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/rankings/2020/salary/catcher/
The Silver Slugger awards were just announced. Freeman, Acuna, d’Arnaud and Ozuna all won for us. We’re the fourth team in history to have four Silver Slugger winners on the same team.
I’m somewhat surprised that they didn’t announce this in an awards show broadcast on ESPNews at 8 a.m. on Christmas morning, but apparently they just actually released these without the awards show.
Graffanino and Cullen are 2 infielders going to the orioles for tommy Milone.
Ok, I guess…..
The Tommy Milone trade is not completed until all memories of him are wiped from my cerebral cortex. I’ve been trading Milone memories for Bourbons for months and the trade is still pending physicals.
@19 I think he’s a $1-2M backup catcher, nothing more. I think he was meant to be a $4M half-starter, half-backup until he fell off a cliff. And with the year d’Arnaud had, I don’t know if you would even want someone more than just a true backup anyway.
I also like not spending money here so that if Contreras hits well in AAA next year and is worthy of a call-up, you could just trade or DFA the backup catcher and let Contreras split time with d’Arnaud.
@22, that still sounds like you got the better end of the deal, no matter what is the BTBNL.
New thread by Rob!
Give me Contreras. Flowers is just too expensive for +1 DRS for ‘framing’.