KBO DFS: The Argument Against Chris Flexen

Chris Flexen, formerly of the New York Mets, (yes, that Chris Flexen) is making his KBO debut for the Doosan Bears on Friday against the LG Twins.

Andy Means writes a great daily pitching primer behind the paywall here at RG, where he covers all of the pitching.

“The long and short of it is that I think Flexen is a perfectly suitable option tonight,” Means wrote. “I don’t think he will kill you, but it’s not like I am going out of my way to get him since he is the most expensive pitcher on the board.”

Means said of Flexen that he doesn’t think Flexen will “kill” us. To which I say,

Flexen has made a career out of getting killed. In only 68.0 MLB IP, he has a 6.92 FIP, 6.37 SIERA, and 1.85 HR/9. This can kill us.

Is the KBO hitting anything near MLB hitting? No, so we should probably be fair to Flexen and toss those numbers out. The sample is ridiculous. We can compare to Triple-A, though. The KBO is often called a Quad-A level league for those too old to keep playing Triple-A, training MLB players for no money. The KBO is probably closer to Triple-A than MLB.

The best KBO slugger, Byung-ho Park, wouldn’t crack an .800 OPS in MLB at his 2019 age 32-33, according to ZiPS.

A young, better, more powerful 30-31-year-old Park spent a full real-life season in Triple-A in 2017, where he had a pretty bad .723 OPS. At 31-32, he went back to the KBO and hit 1.174 with 43 HRs, leading both categories by a landside; then, at 32-33, he led in HRs again with 33, finishing second with only a .959 OPS.

The hitting in the KBO is such where their star slugger struggles in Triple-A. Given that Flexen struggles most with HRs and there just isn’t as much to fear in KBO than MLB, maybe we should focus on what he did against Triple-A hitting, if we’re gonna be fair. If we’re gonna consider dropping $9,200 for him on DraftKings or $27 on FanDuel.

Flexen was sensational in 2017, but the MLB scouts weren’t ecstatic. Jeffrey Paternostro was one of them.

“Flexen doesn’t always hold his 94-95 [mph] into starts and sometimes it doesn’t show up at all,” Paternostro said. “When he works more 90-93, that’s not really enough velocity to cover for just average command and movement, and he rarely had even average command in his major league outings… [Flexen’s curve’s] shape and command are inconsistent. The changeup is fringe-average at best.”

At ages 23-to-25, Flexen pitched two half-seasons at Triple-A in 2018 and 2019, where he posted a 4.95 RA/9; 4.62 and 3.98 FIPs, respectively; and a combined 170 Ks in 170.2 IP. This should translate into him being one of the better K/9 pitchers in the KBO, but to the get the volume we so desperately need, our high-priced stud needs to stay in the game. Flexen with his near-95-mph fastball and 88-mph slider could set the league on fire and rack up the innings.

Unfortunately, something tells me the Koreans will have little patience for Flexen’s lack of control. Especially in game one.

Flexen walked 52 batters in those 170.2 IP for a rate of 2.74 BB/9. In a more patient KBO, where hitters don’t chase, pitchers are forced to throw more hittable pitches, which is terrible for Flexen’s home run problem. Where we can be optimistic is that Flexen only gave up 1.15 HR/9 in Triple-A over 2018-19.

But do we really wanna gamble on which Flexen shows up in Korea in Game One of his new environment at the most premium of premium prices? One HR-prone pitcher with no control or the slightly-HR-prone (by Korean standards) with almost no control? No.

Because he can get killed out there.

Shoutout to my boy, Roberto Ramos in this one. I calling him my leverage play of the day. Hi, Dave Potts! Might even play him in cash, he’s still so cheap on FanDuel. Actually, the top-four in the LG Twins order should all be excellent contrarian plays—mostly Hyun-soo Kim as the secondary piece to Ramos, but don’t forget about Weun-Sung Chae in this righty-righty matchup where no one is going to play him. Chae has 25-HR power somewhere in there, which he showed in 2017, hitting those HRs with 36 doubles.

Flexen has the pedigree to get these guys out and has had a lot of terrible luck with injury. You really have to hope for a guy so damaged to put himself back together again. Even if we don’t take the very good Twins hitting against the crazy ups and downs of Flexen, we have to admit that Flexen can get killed out there.

That’s enough to fade him for the top dollar. Because he can kill us.

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