Chris Archer And The Leadoff Batter

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Chris Archer has struggled some this season, and he has posted a 4.41 ERA (4.91 in Pittsburgh), which would be a career low.  Part of the struggles is that he allows the first batter of the inning to do damage against him.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Chris Archer, the move represented not a move for just 2018, but for three years following with Archer projecting as a 4.0 win pitcher according to Baseball Prospectus in each of those years.  While in name recognition the Pirates gave up a lot of talent, the trade, like almost all, was balanced in the projected value being exchanged.

What the Pirates got was an upgraded arm in the rotation to slot into the number two role of any rotation in baseball, with the caveat that the advanced metrics show that Archer should improve.  However, Archer has consistently underperformed his estimators, especially his RA9 estimator in DRA:

Chris Archer Run Estimators

Archer has pitched about a run worse than his DRA would suggest, this year being a half a run worse.  The good news is that he should be better given his talents and the underlying numbers suggests that he should have had better results in the past.  But he’s still underperformed by a good margin, and his ERA and RA9 have gone up by more than a run since his 2015 campaign.

Without getting too detailed in some of the measures, Archer’s swing and miss rate is one of the best in the league, one area in which doesn’t get enough attention is the leadoff batter in the inning, one in which Archer has struggled with in 2018.  In his first start with the Pirates, Archer allowed all five batters to lead the inning reach base.  Here are his 2018 splits:

Chris Archer 2018 Splits
Non Leadoff3790.2540.3250.3920.31324.27%8.18%

On the season, Archer has a .331 wOBA against, but when splitting it up to batters who led off the inning and then the rest of the batters, the difference is 75 points worth of wOBA, and about a quart of the total plate appearances come from a batter leading off the inning.

The strikeout rates are similar across the board, a good sign as a swing and miss will always play and results should improve with the more swings and misses you get.  It’s also only 120 plate appearances, a rather small sample, but when, on average, the leadoff batter of an inning gets on 37.5 percent of the time, you’re going to get into trouble.

But how does that compare to other pitchers in the league?  Among the 111 pitchers with 100 plate appearances against batters leading off an inning, the 10 highest wOBA against features two Pirates: Ivan Nova and Chris Archer, with the list below:

10 Highest wOBA Against Leadoff Batters
K. Gausman1510.457
B. Colon1450.450
I. Nova1370.432
J. Barria1030.396
C. Anderson1430.396
C. Archer1200.388
S. Gray1210.386
Z. Godley1510.378
J. Odorizzi1400.377
T. Mahle1170.376
Numbers Entering August 21

Archer has the sixth highest wOBA against batters leading off an inning, running into trouble more often than not.  Barria, whose FIP is 4.58, is the only one of these pitchers with a sub 4.00 ERA.  After adjusting for park and league, Barria, along with Gausman (99 ERA-), are the only pitchers with better than league average ERA’s.

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Archer has great stuff, it’s seen in his ability to strike out hitters and induce swinging strikes.  But one of his biggest flaws, in 2018 at least, is Archer allowing the leadoff batter of the inning do damage and reaching at a .375 clip.  Always pitching from the stretch with no outs leads to more run scoring opportunities.  Until Archer cleans that up some, he’ll continue to have problems.

*Split numbers downloaded from baseball-reference