David Fletcher Is the Strangest Story in Baseball This Year

From salary dump trade to gambling scandal to knuckleball breakout, Fletcher has got to be the most bizarre story of the season.

David Fletcher of Atlanta Braves makes a throw to first during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park.
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 23: David Fletcher #22 of Atlanta Braves makes a throw to first during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park on April 23, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

David Fletcher has had a roller coaster career. A promising future as a utilityman. A spot on the same roster as the two best players in baseball. An MVP vote. An ill-fated, eight-figure extension. A descension into mediocrity. A salary dump trade.

Then, it was a gambling scandal. And now… he’s a pitcher? And he might actually be good?

You probably know David Fletcher best as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. He debuted in 2018, the same year as Shohei Ohtani, and spent the next six years playing alongside Ohtani and Mike Trout for a perennial fourth-place ballclub.

Though he was never on the same level as his superstar teammates (the understatement of the century), Fletcher looked quite good over his first three seasons with the Angels. He played capable defense all around the diamond, and thanks largely to his glove, he put up 5.8 FanGraphs WAR over his first 283 big league games.

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He parlayed some batted ball luck during the shortened 2020 campaign into a career year at the plate and a down-ballot MVP vote after the season. In turn, he parlayed that into a lucrative, multi-year extension, which guaranteed him $26 million from 2021-25.

Yet since 2021, Fletcher has descended into anonymity. He put up a 71 wRC+ from 2021-23, no longer enough offensive production to let his defense do most of the talking. He was optioned and later outrighted to the minors multiple times last season, and ultimately, the Angels dealt him to the Atlanta Braves this past winter along with catcher Max Stassi in exchange for Evan White and Tyler Thomas.

Fletcher has continued to struggle at the plate in his new organization. He has a .600 OPS (62 wRC+) at Triple-A and went 2-for-8 with a sac fly during a brief call-up to the majors in April.

Earlier this month, Fletcher made headlines when news broke that he was under investigation for allegedly placing bets with the same illegal bookie involved in the Ippei Mizuhara scandal. He is not believed to have placed any bets on baseball, although a close friend of his, Colby Schultz, reportedly gambled on games in which Fletcher played.

Fletcher was also close friends with Ohtani during their six years as teammates. Even if it turns out that he truly never gambled on baseball, this isn’t a scandal anyone wants to be involved with. Surely, this is not how Fletcher wanted to get his name back in the headlines.

Indeed, he has already found a way to change the narrative. Talk about a quick turnaround.

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David Fletcher is a pitcher now.

On May 8, a little over a week before his gambling scandal broke, Fletcher made the first pitching appearance of his professional career, tossing a scoreless ninth inning against the Charlotte Knights.

He has since made three more relief appearances and yesterday, he made his first career start. The right-hander lasted five innings, striking out six, walking only one, and giving up two earned runs. It took him just 72 pitches.

Oh, and I should mention he was facing the fearsome Norfolk Tides, the team of top prospects like Jackson Holliday, Heston Kjerstad, and Connor Norby.

Fletcher leads his arsenal with a 63-mph knuckleball, which he throws more than 85% of the time. He also has a “fastball” that can touch 82 mph, but his knuckleball is the star of the show.

Indeed, his knuckleball is the only reason any of this is happening. According to David O’Brien of The Athletic, Fletcher told the Braves he had a knuckleball and wanted to try it out. The team agreed to give him a chance.

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Needless to say, the odds of Fletcher making it to the majors as a legitimate bullpen piece are slim. However, it’s not as if he has stopped playing the field. He’s still a capable utility infielder, at least defensively. Perhaps he could carve out a role as a backup infielder who also has the skills to pitch in a pinch.

Unfortunately, Fletcher does not meet the criteria to qualify as a two-way player, which means he’d only be allowed to pitch in extra innings or if his team is ahead or trailing by more than six runs. Still, in an age in which position players are pitching more than ever, perhaps Fletcher could offer the Braves a stronger alternative than, say, Luke Williams.

However, that’s all still a ways away. Fletcher has plenty of work to do before he proves he’s ready to pitch in an MLB game. Plus, he has to hit well enough to warrant a spot on the Braves roster, too.

For now, this is just another oddity in an already bizarre year for David Fletcher. From salary dump to gambling scandal to knuckleball breakout, Fletcher might just be the strangest story in baseball this season.