What Chris Flexen needs to be effective in the majors

Last year when the Mets needed to reach into their system and call up pitchers they weren’t expecting to, they got great results from both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. That fortune has not repeated itself this year with either Tyler Pill or Chris Flexen. It’s not a big surprise with either, as Pill doesn’t have the raw stuff and Flexen started this year in A-ball. Flexen takes the mound tonight for his third start, hoping this time will be the charm.

If you want to rationalize, you can come up with excuses for both of Flexen’s poor first two outings. In his first appearance, he was making the leap to the majors most unexpectedly and even guys properly groomed for their first MLB start get beat around. Then, in his second appearance, Flexen had the misfortune of making a road start in Coors Field. And to top it all off he was dealing with a blister.

But tonight, assuming his blister problem was temporary, the stage is set. Flexen’s been around the major league block twice and he’ll be performing in a relatively neutral park in Citi Field, going up against a squad five games under .500 and one who was an active seller at the trade deadline. So, what does Flexen have to do to be successful this time out?

When you give up 13 H and 5 BB in 6 IP the answer is pretty easy – make better pitches. Good luck with that one. But as much as Flexen needs to make better pitches, he needs to be the recipient of better ball/strike calls, too. According to TexasLeaguers, Flexen has had 10 pitches in the strike zone called balls and three more right on the edge that very easily could have been called strikes. That may not seem like a lot but he only has 19 pitches in the zone called strikes. When a third of your strikes are being called balls, that’s a problem. Here’s the same information visually:

Flexen is making the jump from Double-A to the majors, so it’s not a surprise that he’s struggling. But one thing that jumps out is that he was a solid ground ball pitcher in the minors and most of his balls are being hit in the air so far in the majors. In Hi-A this year, he had a 52.8 GB% and in Double-A it was a 52.6 rate. But in the majors, he has just a 39.1 mark. And MLB hitters have a 2.500 OPS on fly balls against him and a 2.000 OPS on line drives, so he has lots of incentive to get more grounders.

So far, Flexen hasn’t thrown a ton of pitches right down the middle of the zone, yet he’s had more balls in the middle third, both horizontally and vertically, of the plate than seems ideal. And for a guy who’s been a ground ball pitcher, eyeballing it he has about the same number of pitches in the upper half of the zone as he does in the lower half. Here’s that information visually:

Is this pitch calling or pitch execution? No one knows but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that a guy in his first two starts in the majors may be having trouble locating his pitches.

So, things to look for from Flexen tonight:

1. Is he throwing more pitches on the inside third or outside third of the plate, rather than the middle third?
2. Is he throwing more pitches downstairs than upstairs?
3. Does it look like the umpire is squeezing him?

My personal preference is for guys with heat to work upstairs. But that upstairs has to be letter high, not belly-button high. Those belly-high pitches are the ones that get hit a long way, as we saw again and again and again during the Dodgers series, against multiple pitchers. With an average fastball velocity of 93.2, Flexen doesn’t have the raw heat to survive throwing thigh-high to belly-high pitches in the middle of the zone.

16 comments for “What Chris Flexen needs to be effective in the majors

  1. John Fox
    August 8, 2017 at 10:48 am

    One reason he may have some pitches that looked like strikes to be called balls is the traditional umpire bias against rookies, tending to give veterans the benefit of the doubt.

    • August 8, 2017 at 11:27 am

      It appears umpires don’t have quite the same latitude here as they once did, since they are getting graded on performance on a daily basis.

      “A Major League Baseball assessment system, not that widely known, uses on-site supervisors, video reviews, semi-annual written evaluations, high-end technology, incentives like playoff money and, in rare cases, suspensions to keep track of how umpires are doing.

      “There is accountability that these systems … are a perfect example of,” said Randy Marsh, Major League Baseball’s director of umpires after 28 years of calling games in the bigs.”

      http://m.mlb.com/news/article/37468304//

      The article is a couple of years old, so I imagine the process is different today. But it’s hard to imagine umpires are being judged/graded less specifically than they were when this was written.

  2. Koos
    August 8, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Repeal and replace Collins. Play Flores every day.

  3. Eraff
    August 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I’m impressed with Flexen…he has a good arm, and he’s standing out there chucking while getting his Skull bashed. The Jump, with a handful of AA starts, is huge. I’m hoping he gets a good start in…. send him back out with an experience that allows him to target improvement.

  4. Jimmy P
    August 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I thought d’Arnaud was highly ranked as a pitch framer.

    Do you really believe the umpires have anything to do with this?

    (I’m sorry, I said I’d stop, but there it was: sitting on a tee.)

  5. Pete In Iowa
    August 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Home plate umpiring — specifically ball and strike calls — is the worst I have ever seen. Ever.
    Case in point — on Sunday night, after the stolen base call was overturned, Matz had Bellinger struck out on the 2-2 pitch for the third out. He winds up walking and LA goes on to score three runs.
    It’s a big problem and MLB needs to fix it. A fool-proof electronic strike zone can’t come soon enough!

    • Jimmy P
      August 8, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      And the games should be played by robots!

      I feel like the MLB game has been moving in the wrong direction in many regards. Length of games, slowness & boringness of games, pitching changes, replay rules. I’d hate to see umpires replaced by sensors and gizmos, but I don’t kneel at the altar of accuracy and “getting it right.”

      That kills me, how the announcers and experts will always say, after complaining about a two-minute delay, “Well, they got the call right, and that’s the most important thing.”

      Not to me! Not when “getting it right” diffuses the excitement of a close play, not when it stops the game completely and sucks the emotion out of the stadium.

      As a fan, you are at the stadium, there’s a close play at the plate, “Safe!” signals the umpire. The place erupts! Not so much anymore. Hold on, wait a minute, there will surely be a replay. Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum. Let me check my phone. Time passes. The umpires huddle with their stupid headsets, staring into the middle distance. They signal “Safe!” They place is happy again, but it’s not the same, the moment is lost. The best moment of the entire game has been corrupted and diluted. How can that, I ask you, be a good thing?

      • Steevy
        August 8, 2017 at 3:43 pm

        I have felt the same way about replay in football since the beginning.Sadly,we are in the minority.

        • Metsense
          August 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm

          Replay on every play is nauseating. Good points JP about killing the excitement of the game. They should at least let the umpires kick dirt on the managers pants when the replay shows the ump was right.

      • Pete In Iowa
        August 8, 2017 at 4:34 pm

        I am no fan of the replay system as it is used today in baseball, and I agree with the points you have made on replay. But I am a strong advocate of an electronic strike zone. There simply are too many wrong calls on balls and strikes. The next time you watch a game, count how many ball and strike calls are missed. You will be shocked! It has to be fixed.
        As far as instant replay goes a simple fix would be that the manager has five seconds, yes five seconds to decide whether to have the play reviewed. That way it would seem only the worst calls would be reviewed, exactly what was originally intended to be.

      • IDRAFT
        August 9, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        +Infinity.

  6. Jimmy P
    August 8, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    On Flexen, I need to see more of him, because right now I don’t understand how he gets anybody out. Maybe I’m missing something.

    A guy like Ramos — whose control issues will make us insane, I’m sure — is a guy I can fathom. I can “see” with my eyes how he’s hard to hit, how he gets guys out.

    With Flexen, I feel like I’m looking at another of a long line of borderline guys who might have some success in streaks, like Dillon Gee and Bobby Jones, or maybe not. All his secondary pitches seem soft to me, lacking in bite. Gummy? Like a toothless old woman chewing on a soft pear. Is that an apt description of his curveball?

    A ruminant masticating.

    I’m limited that way. I like pitchers with “stuff.”

    • IDRAFT
      August 9, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Greg Prince compared him to Chris Schwinden. That sounds about right.

      • Jimmy P
        August 9, 2017 at 3:48 pm

        Yeah, that’s a good comp.

        We need to stop pretending that the GM didn’t give up on the season by early June. He’s obviously not trying — not worth it — and by the now the team has followed.

        It’s getting very close to disgraceful.

  7. Eraff
    August 8, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    As a Starting point, Bobby Jones pitched over 1500 major league innings…..5 years of 195 innings….7 years over 150 innings….89 wins…Jimmy, sign Me up if Flex can become a decent 4/5 and eat innings!!!

    As for “stuff”…. he’s in the mid 90’s and it’s a stiff jump. I’m not passing judgement….he has less than 10 starts above A Ball..Including MLB starts

    • Jimmy P
      August 9, 2017 at 7:59 am

      Not passing judgment either. It will all be determined on the field. Just giving my early impressions.

      I’ve always been a fan of both Bobby Jones and Dillon Gee, guys who do more with less, who get by on craft and guile and guts. The margin between MLB success and a job at the car wash is so thin. Somehow when they won it seemed more admirable. Or maybe relatable. (Though the guy I related to was Griffin, tossing up one big slow curve after another; hard to believe it can work against ML hitters.)

      In both those cases, their talent wasn’t readily apparent; you have to witness them over a period of time to appreciate how they go about their work. At best, Flexen will fall into that group. Because I sure don’t “see” it.

      He’s young and he’s got time. Glad to see him get that first win, glad too that he seemed pissed he couldn’t get out of the 6th inning. A little fire is a good thing.

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