Ed. note: Every year we publish a series of articles entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which we analyze what the Braves need to do in order to get better the following year. Here’s the intro to the series.
Tyler Flowers has an unremarkable career slash line of .232/.302/.384, in 1720 plate appearances spread over 8 seasons. In 2016, the righty-hitting Flowers went a more respectable .270/.357/.420, his first season in Atlanta. That included 8 home runs in 281 at bats.
Flowers generated 0.3 WAR in 2016, with a 1.5 oWAR dragged down by a -0.8 dWAR. In his career, Flowers’ dWAR has generally hovered around the +0.5 mark, but there is no hiding the fact that in 2016 Flowers caught only 3 of 63 base stealers, a hideous 5% rate. In 2017, Flowers will need to get closer to the 25% – 30% range he exhibited with the White Sox, or this is going to be a problem.
Flowers will be 31 in 2017. Maybe there is something about Atlanta or the National League that will allow us to ignore his career line and see him maintain something close to his 2016 offensive levels. However, the more likely bet is that 2017 sees a return to his career norms.
Anthony Recker is another righty-hitting catcher, on his fourth major league team at age 33. 2016 is the first time he’s batted over .215 for a season. Recker has a .200/284/.350 career slash line, so let’s not get too excited about the .278/.394/.433 line he put up in 112 Atlanta plate appearances. Recker does appear to have a moderate amount of power, with 18 home runs in 545 career at bats.
In his limited time in Atlanta in 2016 he was assigned 0.6 WAR, in line with his career bests. He also threw out 22% of attempted base stealers.
We were under the impression that A.J. Pierzynski had retired, but it’s being reported he may try to find a landing spot in 2017. In fairness, this is just the cherry on top of Pierzynski’s retiring in his own inimitable style. There is no evidence that the Braves are interested, nor should there be.
Lucas Herbert is the only catcher in mlb.com’s list of top 30 Braves prospects, at number 26. The 19 year old Herbert hit .185 at Rome in 2016, with 8 home runs in 335 at bats.
The Braves seem to be interested in acquiring a catcher, either through free agency or trade. The top free agent catchers based on 2016 are 30 year old Matt Wieters of Baltimore, and 29 year old Wilson Ramos of Washington. Ramos hit .308 with 22 home runs in 2016, but unfortunately he is out at least the first 2-3 months of 2017 with his second major knee injury. Georgia Tech’s Wieters, who will be 31 in May, posted a 1.7 WAR in 2016, his first season over 0.8 since 2012.
Other catchers the Braves have been tied to include Jason Castro and Nick Hundley. The Astros’ Castro is a lefty hitter who could platoon with Flowers. Castro will be 31 in June and is coming off of a .210/.307/.377 line in 2016, his 3rd consecutive season around that level. He caught 24% of prospective base stealers in 2016. The 33 year old righty-hitting Hundley is coming off of a 0.1 WAR season for Colorado.
The recent signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon lead me to believe that the Braves are looking at more of a stopgap approach for 2017.
One thing is clear. Between the incumbents and the prospects, catching is the most dire component of this organization, and it will have to be addressed before there is a next great Braves team.