The sinking of May Flowers: A soft-hitting investigation

Why was Tyler Flowers' season lost after April? He and Greg Walker offer slightly different accounts.

Greg Walker talked to Scott Merkin about the young players who will have a big say in the course of 2011, and he went into some detail about Tyler Flowers’ struggles:

“Tyler has had some different ideas about how his swing works than what we did,” Walker said. “In Spring Training, he scuffled and we kind of, at the very end, gave him what we thought he should be doing. He got off to a really good start and when he scuffled, he went back to some of his thoughts. So, when he came up this year, I really didn’t know where he was with his swing.

That jives with Flowers’ story from late May. Almost.

Those changes were implemented by Flowers. But with all due respect to the organization, Flowers wants to somewhat return to a more familiar style that made him previously successful.
“At the point where I’ve tried doing it their way this last month, sadly enough the numbers speak for themselves, and that way doesn’t totally work,” Flowers said. “I have to go back to the old me. I have to go back to my style of hitting, while implementing the little things Walk [White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker] and Kenny talked about.

So what was the root of the issue? Well, let’s go back to spring training:

According to Williams, Flowers’ approach at the plate had changed when he was called up to the Majors last September and was exaggerated more this spring. The 24-year-old moved his hands behind his right shoulder, creating for a much longer swing, while adding a twist of the upper body and opening up his hips and leading with his hips.
“It was a double combination of bad,” Williams said. “Tyler had them more in a traditional place with a traditional load. Walk has talked to him about it. I talked to him about it. I have the greatest frame of reference to see him.
“I do see signs of him now getting his hands away from his body a little bit. He’s showing a shorter swing. His short swing is still very powerful. He’s better able to handle all the pitches when he does this. I’m encouraged by him at this stage.”

And Flowers’ description of the mechanical changes from his side (courtesy of our friend J.J.)?

Armed with the belief he could always return to his previously successful offensive self, Flowers made a few adjustments with his swing in May, trying to drive more inside pitches. While Flowers said he was able to hit those inside pitches well, his efforts ultimately led to serious struggles at the plate.

At the same time, when I asked hitting instructor Jeff Manto about his issues, Manto said Flowers “tweaked a little here and there.  He hasn’t changed much from spring training.” Then again, Manto didn’t really offer any criticisms of anybody, so I’m least inclined to take his word as gospel. He was a nice guy, and I think that niceness extends to his own hitters when people ask questions about them.
So, adding everything up in those stories, here’s what I’m able to piece together. Please tell me if you’ve interpreted the events differently:

  1. Flowers is naturally oriented to drive the ball to right-center.
  2. This could be the product of a long swing, and he succeeds because he’s strong enough to compensate for being slightly late.
  3. When he presses (like he might in a first cup of coffee), he strains harder, making the swing longer.
  4. This would leave him susceptible to even decent inside fastballs.
  5. Walker (or other spring hitting instructors) tell him that major-league pitchers can beat him like that, so he might want to shorten it.
  6. Flowers holds off on making changes, and has a fantastic April, hitting .323/.432/.613.
  7. With his season on solid ground, he implements his shorter swing and focuses on the inner half.
  8. Shortening his swing allows him to get his bat on those fastballs, but not with much power.
  9. And he can’t do anything with the pitches he used to drive, either.
  10. Oh, the humanity!
  11. He goes back to what he used to do, kinda, but not as effectively.

I think that mostly makes sense, but there’s an inconsistency between Step 5 and Step 6, according to the two accounts. Walker makes it sound like Flowers went to Charlotte locked into the mechanical changes they made. He had a terrific April, and when he experienced his first real slump with the new approach, he panicked, tried to go back to his old way and ended up out of sorts through the remainder of the season.
Flowers, I think, tells a different story. In that second story I linked to — written on May 31 — this is the key quote:

“At the point where I’ve tried doing it their way this last month, sadly enough the numbers speak for themselves, and that way doesn’t totally work.”

So either Walker might be misunderstood about what exactly Flowers was doing in the only month where he realized his potential, or Flowers misspoke or misrepresented the situation. I’m inclined to believe it’s the former, but I wouldn’t totally throw out the latter, because defense mechanisms exist, and people who are struggling might try to blame outside circumstances.
And if Walker has the wrong idea about Flowers’ April approach … well, that’s a communication breakdown, isn’t it? I would sincerely hope that both hitting coach and hitter are armed with the same knowledge regarding Flowers’ awesome April and miserable May, and I’m not sure that’s the case.
The indisputably good news is that Flowers, although he might not be aware, is learning from the mistake of young, struggling Sox players before him:

Flowers went to the instructional league to get at-bats with his adjusted swing approach after the regular season’s conclusion. Walker said the catcher was open to going to winter ball if a job opened.

Some of you will remember our old friend Brian Anderson, whom Ozzie Guillen didn’t particularly like, and winter ball caused a divide between them. Anderson went kicking and screaming to Venezuela, drank the water and lost 20 pounds in two weeks. Then he used a wrist injury to avoid going to Mexico after the 2007 season.
(Man, I miss B.A.)
A roster spot might not open up for Flowers, but this is a fine gesture nevertheless — especially since his offensive style (lots of strikeouts, even if he does improve) might rankle Guillen. And if he did go, I think it’d be a pretty good test, because Caribbean environments aren’t nearly as friendly to hitters as, say, the Arizona Fall League. Hitters earn their numbers in winter ball.
If he does go, I just hope that he and Walker both know what they had agreed upon, what he did in April, where he went wrong in May, and what he’s supposed to do now. I’m not entirely confident they meet all of the above criteria.
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Brief assistant briefings:

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Arizona Fall League:

  • Scottsdale 9, Peoria 1
    • Jared Mitchell went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
    • Eduardo Escobar wore the collar.
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Jim Margalus
Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.
Articles: 3059
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JJ

The impression I got when I talked to Flowers (thanks for the link, BTW) was exactly what you laid out here–that he tried to implement some changes to his swing in May, thinking if they didn’t work he could easily go back to his previous approach.
Good stuff, as always, Jim.

soxfan1

Good chronolgy Jim, makes for interesting reading. In any case, I want to see AJ come back. The other free agents don’t excite me.

Shinons

Bravo on the headline…

brittburnsfan

For the life of me I just don’t see Flowers becoming an everyday MLB catcher! Hope I am wrong. I hope we sign AJ as well…do we have a prospect at all in the minors that is a C?
First post…love this site! Thanks for running it!

knoxfire30

josh phegley, miguel montero, tyler flowers, the list isnt encouraging but their are some young catchers in the system…

cushinglee

BBF, I just wanted to let you know that I have a 1985 replica Britt Burns jersey.

winningugly

Name-dropper, you are.
Nice piece. “Stinking May Flowers”: etc. would’ve also been acceptable.

bigfun

I wonder if the stark difference between the fast-moving successes like Beckham and Sale vs. the complete busts like Anderson and Borchard have White Sox fans taking an all-or-nothing approach to prospects. Maybe that’s why people can’t wait to stick a fork in Flowers?

sars

I just don’t understand. The kid routinely put up what would be 3-4 win seasons in the majors. One – in my opinion – flukey bad season, and everyone wants to ship him out of town. He gets thrown to the wolves by some rumor that the Sox FO doesn’t like him. Throw in 35 plate appearances in the majors and all of a sudden he “can’t cut it.” I guess everyone is a scout these days.

melidoperez

Okay, so let me get this straight. The Sox trade for Tyler Flowers following a season in which he hits 288/427/494 in the Braves minor league system. Tremendous numbers for a catcher.
In his first year in the Sox minor league system between AA and AAA he hits 297/423/516, continuing to hit as well as any catching prospect in all of baseball not named Santana or Posey. So the Sox course of action is to screw with the swing/approach that has produced these great numbers? How about letting a guy who has raked at every single level have some failure before messing with him?
What guy is going to buy in to changing what has been successful year after year? Shocking this team hasn’t developed a hitter in 10 years. We are all lucky as Sox fans that Beckham spent so little time getting developed by our organizations array of hitting gurus.

buford

Sorry but I can’t agree with the “stay the course until pitchers definitely exposed him.” If an organization sees a fault that they feel will negatively impact a player’s ML career, it should be immediately addressed. ML pitching will expose those flaws that Minor League pitching might not. I don’t want Flowers to be the next Brandon Wood or Alex Gordon.
Initially, Walker and Williams, and now Konerko and other teammates see flaws in Flowers’ swing. When so many people within an organization see a problem, it should be addressed now not suspended indefinitely.

buford

Hitting might be the most difficult task in sports. And teaching hitting has to be one of the most misunderstood and thankless jobs in sports. Successfully customizing and blending the technical aspect and mental approach for dozens of players with varying degrees of ability for an all-encompassing philosophy is impossible. Heck, golfers have problems with technique plus mental approach and their ball is not moving and curving at 90+ MPH.
But with Flowers, it’s the number of people pointing out the problem. If you are a young player and the GM, Hitting Coach, Paul Konerko and other players tell you that you have a problem in your swing is your response ” Sorry I don’t believe that all of you collectively know enough about hitting for me to totally dismantle my swing” ?
Evidently Flowers has bought into a “dismantling” of his swing because he believes that people who have had thousands of ML AB’s know at least a little bit more about hitting at the ML level than he does and have his best interest at heart. A problem swing needs to be fixed immediately whether it needs tweaking or dismantling.
If the Sox need a better teacher or philosophy, then hire arguably the best hitting around in Rudy Jaramillo. After all, under Jaramillo’s philosophy the Cubs were the best hitting team in baseball …… or maybe not so much. His toe-tap philosophy to trigger the swing helped Josh Hamilton in Texas. Except that Hamilton stopped the toe-tap this year on his way to the MVP.
As Plato once said “Hitting a baseball is more talent than philosophy.”

buford

Regarding Flowers’ future development, I believe this was the most salient point of the article:
“But he’s been pretty much a sponge since he got up [to the White Sox]. Paulie [Konerko] and other players in the clubhouse talked to him about how his swing should work, and he bought into it.”
If Flowers received advice from a number of teammates including Konerko and he truly “bought into it”, he may be more committed to making and sticking with the changes this time. Plus the advice might be better.

baseballjones

Seems like all we do is talk about Tyler Flowers, and his potential, and his swing, and who was to blame for his one “flukey” season at AAA…meanwhile, Brent Morel has played his way into not only a spot on the roster, but potentially our next 3B. Action gentlemen, will always speak louder than words. The guys you have to spend SO much time talking, and writing about (and defending), are the ones to trade. I’ve made my opinion known here on Tyler Flowers. I could be wrong, he is still young and raw (and thus “moldable” to a certain extent) but the fact remains…we are ALL still waiting to be impressed to the point to be comfortable enough to hand him the keys to the C position at the MLB level.