Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueMLBNewsSeattle Mariners

Mariners sign Chris Flexen to Two-Year Deal

After one year in the KBO where he had no problem Flexen his muscles (I deserve to be booed off stage for that one), Chris Flexen is coming back to Major League Baseball on a two-year deal worth $4.75MM guaranteed. The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff expanded further on the deal, adding that there is a $4MM club option for 2023, and an $8MM vesting option should Flexen reach the milestones of 150 innings in 2022 or 300 innings between 2021 and 2022.

Flexen originally signed with the Mets in 2012 after being drafted in the 14th round of the First-Year Player Draft. He made his big league debut in 2017 and saw limited playing time between then and his final season with the Mets in 2019. In three years, Flexen started 11 games and appeared in relief in 16 games, totaling 68 innings. Those 68 innings were not friendly to Flexen, posting a 7.15 base on balls per nine innings (BB/9) which was higher than his 6.49 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), an earned runs average (ERA) of 8.07, a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 6.92, and an expected FIP (xFIP) of 6.70. Overall, a terrible stat line.

But Flexen would find new life in the KBO with the Doosan Bears, where he had a dominant 2020, and I mean dominant.

Any time you’re getting over a quarter of your outs by way of the strikeout, you’re most likely dominating hitters overall. After Hyun-jin Ryu‘s similar 2012 season, he came to the MLB with the Dodgers and was very good over the next two seasons. From 2013-2014, Ryu started 56 games and recorded 344 innings. He had a 7.67 K/9, 2.04 BB/9, and a .60 home run per nine innings (HR/9) with a 3.17 ERA and 2.97 FIP. Overall, Ryu would finish top 20 in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) for pitchers from 2013-2014.

Flexen’s KBO stat line was leaps and bounds better than his MLB stat line. In 2020 for the Doosan Bears, Flexen recorded a 10.18 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, .46 HR/9, a 3.01 ERA, and a 2.74 FIP over 21 starts and 116 ⅔ innings pitched. Talk about a turn around from his previous three years stateside.

While all of that seems as though Flexen is primed for a comeback after his KBO stint, we know that pitching in the MLB has changed quite a bit since 2014. Pitchers are consistently throwing harder, and Flexen’s 2020 average fastball velocity of 92.6 mph ranks 148th out of 294 for pitchers in 2020 and 24th out of 42 pitchers with the qualified number of innings from 2019-2020. Still, some pitchers with a similar average fastball velocity are guys like Aaron Nola, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman; so if Flexen can compliment his fastball with above-average secondary pitches, this could prove to be quite the pickup for the Mariners.

The possibility of Flexen’s secondary pitches playing in the MLB is a very real possibility. While he used his fastball more than 60% of the time, his best pitches were his changeup and his curveball. He only threw his curveball 12.5% of the time, but an estimated expected on-base average (ExwOBA) of .197 is staggering and, dare I say, elite. If the Mariners pitching coaches can hone in on what made Flexen’s secondary pitches so effective in the KBO, there’s a real chance he could see the type of dominance Ryu saw when he came over to the MLB in 2013.

Fastball-Curveball Overlay courtesy of Ben Howell (@benhowell71) on Twitter

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

KBO statistics courtesy of Ben Howell and KBO Wizard

Photo courtesy of Yonhap News Agency

Garrett Allen

Garrett Allen is a recent college graduate from Valdosta State University and is now pursuing a Masters of Science in Strategic Sports Analytics at the California University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Georgia, he is an avid Braves fan and has a particular interest in prospect development.