My first glimpse of the 2021 Seattle Mariners, my first in-person Mariners game at T-Mobile Park since 2019, and my opinions of the team to start the season were all in the hands of Chris Flexen. As the only proper birthday celebration I could think of, I convinced my family to join me at the Mariners’ second game of the 2021 season to watch them face the San Francisco Giants on one of those beautiful April nights that remind you of the magic that baseball games bring.
I didn’t have very high expectations for the game, but I didn’t really have any expectations at all. The Mariners had picked up Flexen that December from the Doosan Bears of the KBO for a guaranteed $4.75 million over two years with some additional bonuses. Prior to his KBO stint, he had spent a few seasons with the Mets, but nothing that would have kept him on my radar. Up and down from the minors for most of his time in New York, Flexen struggled to post consistent numbers, and was DFA’d in 2019. His KBO season showed improvement in his pitching, but he was still struggling. So when Flexen exited the game after five scoreless innings with four hits, two walks, and six strikeouts, I was quite satisfied with his first outing in a Mariners uniform.
Perhaps foreshadowing the rest of the Mariners’ season, Flexen’s overall performance encapsulates the 2021 Seattle Mariners; a team of low expectations but desire for competition that blossomed into something quite fun to watch.
That 4-0 win against the Giants would serve as a starting point for a trajectory that would only continue upward. Flexen’s ability to stay consistent and healthy throughout the entire season proved to be key in the Mariners’ playoff push. From the beginning of the season to the end, his stats are almost identical. Per FanGraphs, his K% during the first half of the season was 16.9% compared to his second half percentage of 16.8%. He additionally posted a 1.21 WHIP in the first half that slightly increased to 1.29 during the second half of the season, right in line with the league average of 1.297 for the 2021 season. Considered a bust during his time with the Mets, the comeback-story-narrative of Flexen’s first season with the Mariners fits perfectly with his success.
With his lowest ERA in the Majors since 2017 and a career record for strikeouts in a season with 125, Flexen was involved in talk of low-ballot Cy Young votes for much of the season. He was awarded Mariners Pitcher of the Year by the BBWAA, and spoken of highly by manager Scott Servais and GM Jerry Dipoto, who were impressed with Flexen’s development of control and confidence.
The Mariners were forced to use 15 different starting pitchers this season due to injuries, so having reliable pitchers like Flexen who were able to stay healthy and productive throughout the season was of high importance, and his energy and eagerness to perform lifted the team in important moments. Perhaps his own biggest critic, he could often be seen yelling into his glove while walking off the field if he wasn’t happy with his performance because he wanted so badly to do well for his team. This type of competitor is necessary to have on a team looking to make a serious drive towards the playoffs.
Flexen berating himself for giving up one run is again a moment all of us self-critics feel spiritually pic.twitter.com/foJCBqvq8U— Lydia Cruz (@TheLydiaCruz) September 23, 2021
He even earned himself the nickname “Hulk!”
Hulk hands are a new accessory for Chris Flexen… pic.twitter.com/fSytSor9K6— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) July 7, 2021
Although I had no expectations for Flexen going into this season, after his first few starts, he built them for me. I was impressed with his 2021 performance, and I now expect him to continue his upward trajectory next season. He has shown no signs of fatigue, and it only makes sense for him to continue getting stronger. At just 27 years old, Flexen is currently signed through 2022, with a club option for 2023. I’m excited to see what’s in store for him this upcoming season, and given his ability to stay composed and consistent, I anticipate similar results.