Do the Mariners need to stop starting Chris Flexen on the mound?
For a long time, I've been a fan of Chris Flexen. He worked his tail off to get into better shape, went overseas to figure out his game, and came back to the majors as a new pitcher. He was great for the Mariners in 2021 and 2022, a welcome surprise and massive surplus over what everyone thought we were going to get.
A 3.61 ERA and a 3.74 ERA over those two seasons, mixed in with a move to the bullpen that I never heard a complaint about anywhere in the media. He went to the pen without issue and pitched pretty darn good there to finish out the season last year. He even started there this year. That didn't last, as he threw 4 IP in Ray's first start, and has taken his place in the rotation while he is out. The takeover game and the first start were great. Since then, it's been bad. Not just "sort of" bad either. Two of them were terribly bad.
If the Mariners want to compete, they might need to replace Chris Flexen
It might be an overreaction, but three bad starts in a row is concerning. When you pitch this bad, it's unrealistic to expect the offense to be able to keep up. Especially when they've already spotted you a massive lead. Check out his last three starts.
4/11 @ Cubs
4/17 vs Brewers
4/23 vs Cardinals
The Brewers start wasn't awful. It's still an ERA of 6, and not something that you can allow every start, especially when it's far and away you're best start in the stretch. The Cubs start was the one that the Mariners spotted him a 7 run lead. You can argue that he didn't give the Mariners a chance to win any of these games. The Brewers one was against Corbin Burnes, so 4 runs with him going against you is like 8-9 against a run of the mill pitcher.
Can the Mariners keep throwing Chris Flexen out there? That's the question that is sitting at the forefront of the minds of many a fan. We've all seen a ton of good starts from Flexen since coming to the Mariners. He had 40 of 51 starts of 5 IP and 3 ER or less, with 20 of those being 6 and 2 ER or less 40% of the time, you're getting a great start from him. Another 40%, and you're getting a pretty good start from him. That leaves just 20% that are meh to poor.
He might be able to bounce back. Take a look at 2021, and his last 20 starts he compiled an ERA of just 3.08, after putting up a 4.68 mark through his first 11 starts. He had a 4.98 through his first 8 last season, and then a 3.30 over his next 13 starts before the move to the bullpen.
Part of it might be bad luck. He's giving up around 9% more flare/burners compared to the last two years, pulling the ball more, hitting more grounders, making less hard contact, and finding fewer barrels. Hitters are chasing more, making less contact when they do, and whiffing more in general. His BABIP against is .361, which is about 75 points above his average since coming to the Mariners.
For now, I think the Mariners are fine keeping Flexen in the rotation. He is going to miss the Phillies, but will be going up against the Blue Jays in Toronto over the weekend. I don't think that Chris Flexen is done just quite yet, but this is the shortest his leash has ever been since coming to Seattle. If it continues, the Mariners are going to need to look elsewhere to fill his rotation spot.