One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the 2021 season came from a most unlikely place, the Doosan Bears of the KBO. Coming over from Korea, Chris Flexen was signed to a 2 year 4.75 million dollar contract. Fans groaned and complained that the team was not spending enough money on high-profile free agents, but Flexen turned out to be a hidden gem. But what should we expect from Flexen in his age 27 season?
For many people, Flexen is an easy target to pick out for regression. Some believe the league will figure him out in 2022, some believe some of his weaker metrics point to him falling apart. His profile shows just as many reasons to be optimistic, as there is to be pessimistic.
Chris Flexen was the surprise ace of the Seattle Mariners in 2021
One reason for concern for Flex is that he doesn’t miss many bats, and he has a tendency to get hit hard. He ranked in just the 9th percentile in K% and the 6th percentile in whiff percentage according to his Baseball Savant page. He also only ranked in the 33rd percentile of average exit velocity, and the 34th percentile in expected slugging percentage. All of these can definitely be problematic for the right-hander, as not missing bats and giving up barrels is a recipe for disaster for many pitchers.
Flexen also operates with a relatively flat fastball and not much velocity. If his command wavers at all, difficulties keeping opponents in the yard could ensue. There is also some validity to the league making adjustments to Flexen the more they have seen him.
However, we should not just pretend like Chris Flexen does not have good stuff. The righthander had three pitches with above-average vertical movement. His curveball also ranked in the 81st percentile of spin rate and was an excellent weapon for him in 2021. His changeup, at times, looked devastating and was a fantastic weapon to use against left-handed hitters.
Flex was also able to control the zone extremely well in 2021. Ranking in the 89th percentile of BB%, Flexen was in the zone all year long. When pounding the zone it is important to stay away from as many barrels as possible. While his exit velocities were high at times, his Barrel % ranked in the 77th percentile which is another extremely positive trend for him.
Flexen was also terrific in the confines of his home ballpark. Posting a 3.23 ERA with just 7 home runs allowed in 97 innings at T Mobile park, he had a 4.06 with 12 home runs allowed on the road. If he can continue to be excellent at limiting damage at T Mobile, that would go a long way towards repeating his success.
Zips overall sees Flexen regressing, but not too terribly. Zips has him going at the tune of a 4.32 ERA in 158 innings, with a 4.43 FIP. They have him projected for just 1.6 WAR, as opposed to his 3.0 from 2021. This would firmly cement him as a solid number 4 starter in the league, but nowhere close to the high-end 3 he was in 2021.
Overall you can believe what you want about Chris Flexen. Sure he could regress, but there is significant information that says he could be legit. Being the intense competitor that he is, Flexen will try to prove himself once again in 2022. I truly do not see his numbers cratering as far as Zips does. His success at home combined with slightly above average stuff, and well above average defense leads me to feel confident about a solid second season in Seattle.