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:
- Flowers is naturally oriented to drive the ball to right-center.
- This could be the product of a long swing, and he succeeds because he’s strong enough to compensate for being slightly late.
- When he presses (like he might in a first cup of coffee), he strains harder, making the swing longer.
- This would leave him susceptible to even decent inside fastballs.
- Walker (or other spring hitting instructors) tell him that major-league pitchers can beat him like that, so he might want to shorten it.
- Flowers holds off on making changes, and has a fantastic April, hitting .323/.432/.613.
- With his season on solid ground, he implements his shorter swing and focuses on the inner half.
- Shortening his swing allows him to get his bat on those fastballs, but not with much power.
- And he can’t do anything with the pitches he used to drive, either.
- Oh, the humanity!
- 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.
Brief assistant briefings:
- Kenny Williams says nice things about Rick Hahn to the New York Post, but Sandy Alderson is still considered the favorite.
- Joey Cora will interview for the Milwaukee Brewers’ managerial opening, although there are no overwhelming strong ties at this point.
Arizona Fall League:
- Scottsdale 9, Peoria 1
- Jared Mitchell went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
- Eduardo Escobar wore the collar.