Chris Archer: A Calculated Risk

Jul 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Chris Archer has not been having the year many expected from the Tampa Bay Rays starter. He is not performing to the All Star level he had last season, and has been rather disappointing. However, a trade for the young, right-handed starter, could be a very smart one.

Chris Archer enters his Wednesday start against the Colorado Rockies with the most losses in all of baseball with 13, and he has two more losses than teammate Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez, and current Chicago White Sox James Shields, all who have lost 11 games this season. However, a pitchers win and loss record, Archer is 4-13, does not reflect how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched. Archer’s Tampa Bay Rays, for example, are 5-25 in their last 30 games, and Archer is 0-5 in that span with a no decision despite pitching well enough to win in some of those games.

Archer has not pitched that well this season, there is no debate in that. His ERA of 4.68 ranks as the 28th worst in baseball, but even that is still better than the 5.11 ERA of Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke‘s 5.26 ERA. Archer’s 4.32 FIP has shown that he has been worse than he should be at this point in time, but his FIP is still better than Locke’s 4.88 and Liriano’s 5.18. The good news, Archers xFIP is 3.75, which means he should theoretical improve in the future. Jeff Locke’s xFIP of 4.93 is the eighth worst and Liriano’s xFIP of 4.80 is 14th worst in baseball. Archer is currently better than two fifths of the rotation, and Archer is expected to be better in the future than both.

One negative on Archer is his home run rates, as he has a career high of 3.9 percent this season compared to the 2.1 percent that he posted from 2012-2015. The reason for the spike in home runs stems from his home run to fly ball rates. This season Archer has a career high 17.4 percent home run to fly ball, which is 7.8 percent higher than the 9.6 percent home run to fly ball ratio he posted from 2012-2015. He is due to regress to the mean. Archer has already given up a career high in home runs, 20, and is averaging one home run allowed per start. That number is due to come down, and once it does, his performance will improve.

Excluding advanced stats for now, a quick fix in a slight mechanical issue can get Chris Archer back on track. On MLB Network, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez – two hall of fame pitchers – broke down what they think is troubling the 27-year-old. Bringing his hands closer to his body when he separates is something of an easier fix that Jim Hickey, the Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is probably working with Archer in between starts. The most intriguing part of the video comes at about the one minute and eleven second mark. The side by side of Archer, Jacob deGrom, and Edinson Volquez.

Jun 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throws a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throws a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Volquez, the former Pirates starter, parlayed his 2014 season, which featured a 3.04 ERA in 192.2 innings, into a two-year and $20 million deal with a team option for 2017 with the Kansas City Royals. The comparisons between the two pitchers does not just stop at their mechanics, however. Analytically the two are very similar.

In the year prior to joining the Pirates, Volquez had a 4.24 FIP, which is similar to the 4.33 FIP that Archer has possessed this season. Volquez had a 9.9 percent walk percentage in 2013, Archer has a 9.5 percent walk percentage this season. Chris Archer has allowed an extra base hit 8.8 percent of the time this season, and Edinson Volquez allowed an extra base hit 8.9 percent of the time in 2013.

Another point to look at Archer’s struggles from this season to last season, is his platoon splits. From 2012-2015, left-handed hitters hit .236/.306/.365 against Archer, but this season left-handed hitters are hitting .249/.329/.439. Part of the explanation can be attributed to the BAbip increasing from .295 from 2012-2015 to .314 this season. Another look is at the pitch selections. From 2012-2015, Archer mixed his pitches against left-handed hitters really well. He threw his four-seam 37.73 percent, sinker 22.49 percent, change-up 10.73 percent, and his slider 29.04 percent.

This season though, Archer has thrown his four-seam 49.2 percent of the time to left-handed batters, his slider 33.5 percent of the time, and his change-up 19.4 percent. Even after dropping the sinker last season, he threw his four-seam 54.24 percent of the time against lefties, his slider 33.5 percent, and his change 12.21 percent. Left handed hitters hit only .222/.272/.333 off of Archer last season. Left handers are slugging 0.651 against his fastball and 0.364 against his change. Dropping his change-up usage should help some, and not opening his body up as Smoltz said in the video will help his fastball and slider.

His right hand platoon splits are not flattering either. Archer held right-handed hitters to a .220/.286/.310 from 2012-2015. He relied on his four-seam fastball 43.25 percent of the time, sinker 16.66 percent, and his slider 39.32 percent. Last season Archer held right handers to a .218/.293/.329 slash line. He focused mostly on using his fastball (54.13 percent) and slider (45.19 percent). This season, right-handed hitters are hitting .260/.324/.445 off of Archer.

This year, Archer has thrown his fastball 50.97 percent of the time against right handers, his slider 42.05 percent, and his change 6.89 percent. The right handed hitters are slugging 0.542 with a 0.292 isolated power against that change-up. His fastball and slider have both been hit for more power this season, but once again, a quick fix of not opening up too early will help allow Archer to have more success with his go-to pitches.

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Archer has thrown his change-up this season about six percent more this year (12.54 percent) compared to last season (6.59 percent), and 6.24 percent more this year than 2012-2015 (6.3 percent of the time). Along with bringing his hands closer to the body when he separates his hand and not opening up so early, dropping the change-up usage can be very helpful. Bringing back the sinker, the pitch he threw 41.07 percent of the time in his 3.33 ERA/3.39 FIP 2014 season is another potential key.

Chris Archer is having a down season, and the Rays likely won’t sell low. According to Today’s Knuckle Ball, the Rays would want Austin Meadows or Josh Bell, Elias Diaz, and another player in any deal with the Pirates. Archer, a pitcher who posted a 3.26 ERA, 117 ERA+, and 3.36 FIP in 535.1 innings from 2013-2015 is the pitcher the Pirates would seek to acquire.

The advanced metrics show he should regress more to be his pre-2016 self. The mechanical flaws that John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez are simple fixes that would allow him to return to form as well. The mechanical similarities to Edinson Volquez, a pitcher Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage had worked wonders for in 2014, should allow the same to happen with Archer. Dropping his change-up usage in favor of his slider and four-seam, and bringing his sinker back, will also help Chris Archer succeed like he did prior to this season.

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Archer is signed cheap through the end of the 2019 season, and he has a $9 million team option for 2020 and an $11 million team option for 2021. He never exceeds the $9 million the Pirates are paying Jon Niese this season, expect for in those two option years. Archer provides a bargain of a pitcher of his caliber, and once he makes a few quick and easy changes, he will once again be that caliber. The Pirates can use the funds they will save on him compared to a free agent pitcher, and allocate it elsewhere on the club. With Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and others such as Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault not being arbitration eligible until after the 2019 or 2020 seasons, that allocation can go to Gerrit Cole’s arbitration numbers or a player in an area of need. Gaining Chris Archer, despite his lack luster performances this season, is a calculated risk both now and in the future, and it is a move that can pay great dividends in multiple ways for the Pirates.

*Numbers from baseball-reference, Fangraphs, and Brooks Baseball