There is nothing better than a great comeback story.
Stories like George Foreman returning to the ring at age 45 to win the heavyweight title, or Tiger Woods winning the 2019 Masters to earn his 15th-career major championship win after years of injuries and personal turmoil, or Michael Jordan returning to the NBA after dabbling with baseball for a year to win three more titles with the Bulls.
Though not all redemption stories are on those types of levels, they’re still stories worth telling.
From 2017-19, Chris Flexen could barely be considered a below-average big league hurler with the Mets. During his three seasons in Flushing, the Mets’ 2012 14th-round pick was 3-11 with an 8.07 ERA, 2.132 WHIP and a 49-54 strikeout-walk rate in 27 appearances (11 starts).
After being released by the Mets in 2019, Flexen played in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2020. In 21 starts with the Doosan Bears, he went 8-4 with a 3.01 ERA, 132 strikeouts and just 30 walks. His 10.2 strikeouts per nine ranked eighth in the KBO, while his 1.09 WHIP ranked 10th and his 2.3 walks per nine (far below the 7.1 per nine he averaged with the Amazin’s) ranked 17th.
After his year in Korea, Flexen, who is still just 27, signed a two-year deal with the Mariners. In his first eight starts, it looked like the same old story (with a better strikeout-walk rate). He was 4-2 with 24 strikeouts and just nine walks, but had a 5.09 ERA and .333 opponent average.
Over his next eight starts, however, Flexen went 4-1 with a 2.26 ERA, 39-10 strikeout-walk rate and a .208 opponent average. He also pitched six or more innings, and allowed three earned runs or less, in seven of those eight outings. (Not bad for a guy who previously reached the sixth inning in a start once in his career — Aug. 23, 2017.)
In 17 starts, Flexen is 9-3 with a 3.35 ERA, 1.198 WHIP and 65-20 strikeout-walk rate. Though his 5.9 K/9 was the third-lowest in the majors, his ERA ranked ninth in the AL and his 1.81 walks per nine was the ninth-lowest in the league.
On the surface, Flexen still looks like the guy who pitched for the Mets. His pitch selection is the same, though he has ditched his sinker. His fastball is averaging 92.7 mph, which is what he averaged in 2017 and 2018. His spin rates are all in line with what he did prior to his season in Korea, too.
Though Flexen’s swinging strike rate (8.8 percent) is around the league average, he has induced more swinging strikes over his past eight starts.
Outside of the massive reduction in walks, the biggest difference may be the success Flexen is having with his curveball, a pitch he is using 15.1 percent of the time. Opponents are hitting .250 against the pitch, with a 25.7 percent whiff percentage and a career-high 11.5 percent swinging-strike rate. It is his put-away pitch 15.6 percent of the time, and he is getting more vertical movement on it than he has in the past.
Flexen, who is owned in 55.6 percent of ESPN leagues, has also upped the usage of his changeup (16.3 percent), which opponents are hitting .164 against, with 19 strikeouts. Opposing hitters have a 29.3 whiff rate and 15.5 percent swinging-strike rate against the pitch.
On the down side, Flexen’s line-drive rate is far below the league average, and though his FIP (3.67), xFIP (4.45) and xERA (3.96) all indicate there will be some regression, he should still be useful in the right situation.
Flexen’s redemption story will never be among the greatest ever told, but it is a story worth telling — especially as the second half gets going and fantasy owners look for help to get them to the promised land. Flexen is on the cusp of being a permanent fantasy rotation piece, but still has more to prove. For now, he remains a solid streaming option.
Garrett Cooper 1B/OF, Marlins
In his first 15 games since returning from the IL (back), he was 19-for-41 (.463) with four homers, 10 RBIs, 13 walks, 12 runs, a stolen base and a 1.422 OPS.
Kwang Hyun Kim SP, Cardinals
Won three straight decisions before the break, allowing one earned run and a .175 opponent average in that span. He has a 2.55 ERA, .206 opponent average and 26 strikeouts over his past seven starts.
AJ Pollock OF, Dodgers
Entered the break on a four-game hit streak, going 9-for-15 with four homers, four RBIs and a 2.267 OPS in that span.
Jameson Taillon SP, Yankees
Lasted six innings or more on four of his past five starts while going 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA, 28-7 strikeout-walk rate and a .227 opponent average.
Caleb Smith SP, D’backs
Has not fared well over his past four starts, going 0-4 with a 8.50 ERA, 20-11 strikeout-walk rate, six homers allowed and a .368 opponent average.
Amed Rosario SS/OF, Indians
In 12 games prior to the break, he was 8-for-48 (.167) with one run, two RBIs, 13 strikeouts and a .375 OPS.
Antonio Senzatela SP, Rockies
Has not won since June 2, going 0-3 with a 4.75 ERA and .308 opponent average in that span. That being said, he did carry an impressive 31-5 strikeout-walk rate during that stretch.
Tony Kemp OF, Athletics
In 15 games before the break, he was 3-for-42 (.071) with one RBI, one run, 12 strikeouts, a .245 OBP and .364 OPS.
- Despite going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and .189 opponent average over his past eight starts (including a one-hit, eight strikeout effort against the Yankees on July 8), Seattle’s Logan Gilbert is owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. In other Mariners news: Jarred Kelenic is back in the bigs, looking to snap his 0-for-37 streak.
- The Red Sox started the second half by calling up stud prospect Jarren Duran — who was hitting .270 with 15 homers, 32 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a .926 OPS in 46 games at Triple-A. He is owned in 37.5 percent of ESPN leagues. In other Sawx news: Chris Sale began his rehab assignment on Thursday with Boston’s Florida Complex League affiliate.
- Eloy Jimenez (torn pectoral muscle) went 1-for-6 in his first two rehab games as the outfielder works his way back to the White Sox. The 24-year-old remains available in 30 percent of ESPN leagues after being the most added player this week.
TEAM NAME OF THE WEEK
Corbin in the Woods