Former All-Star Chris Archer struggled in 2019, but better things could be on the horizon for the Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher if/when the 2020 season gets underway
Pittsburgh Pirates starter Chris Archer was part of one of the most ill-fated trades in Pirates history. Last year, Archer struggled and posted the worst numbers of his career. Those include a 5.19 ERA, 5.02 FIP, and a 1.41 WHIP. While he usually posted solid ERA predictor numbers, those also weren’t too kind to him in 2019. He finished the year with a 4.38 SIERA, and 4.42 DRA in 119.2 innings of work.
One of the biggest issues for Archer was the long ball. Of the 114 hits he gave up, 25 of them left the park. When he did give up a hit, it was usually coming off the barrel at a fast rate. Archer was in the bottom 22nd percentile of hard hit rate at 39.5%. That’s over 5% higher than his career average. He also posted a 10.5% walk rate, which was over 2% higher than his career average from 2011 to 2018 (7.8%). He did keep a strong strikeout rate with a 10.8 K/9 and 27.2% rate, but that was about the only silver lining of the 2019 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates righty starter.
So, going into 2020, what should you expect from the former All-Star?
Well, you probably should not expect him to return to any All-Star caliber, but you should expect him to improve. Archer was not all that bad of a pitcher from 2016 to 2018. In these three seasons, Archer posted a 4.12 ERA, 3.64 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. That also includes a strong 3.53 SIERA. Archer also induced ground balls at a much greater rate at a 44.3% rate in these seasons. His highest walk rate in these three years was in 2016 when it reached a still solid 7.9% mark. While he did struggle in the DRA department in 2019, it sat below 4.00 in both 2016 and 2017.
In these three years, Archer clocked in with a 10.0 fWAR across 550.2 innings. That tied him with former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, and put him ahead of Patrick Corbin (9.6), and Jon Lester (9.1). Overall, those are pretty good numbers for a guy who was in a tough division.
In 2016, the only team to have a record below .500 in the AL East was the Tampa Bay Rays, and three of the fivr teams had a wRC+ above 100. Those three teams also made the playoffs that season. In 2017, although the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays weren’t as good of a team, Archer still had to face a cast of strong line ups that included a Baltimore line up with five players with at least 300 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 100+, and a New York Yankees team that was second in the AL in wRC+. In 2018, Archer faced two 100+ win teams in the Red Sox and Yankees.
It’s pretty clear that Archer suffered from the juiced ball as well. Archer sat at roughly league average in the home run department from 2016 to 2018, but when it spiked across the league in 2019, so did Archer’s home run rate. Last year, the average HR/9 was 1.4, a 0.2 increase from 2018, and 0.4 increase from 2015. If it returns to 2015-2016 levels, then Archer should also give up less home runs. However, it is also possible his injury played a role in his 2019 struggles as well.
Hopefully, the new Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff will also see what they need to do with Archer’s pitch repertoire. Last year, Archer only used his slider 36% of the time, which was the lowest usage of it since 2014. Despite it being used so infrequently, especially compared to his fastball (40%), opponents managed a slugging percentage of just .379 off the pitch compared to .458 off his fastball. His slider is still a strong pitch, as it ranks 46th among the MLB in horizontal movement (5.4 inches of break). He also can still get his fastball into the mid-90s.
In 2020, Archer should return to how he pitched in 2016-2018. With the likelihood of the reduction in home run rate, and the ball becoming less hitter friendly, Archer should see better results in terms of home run rate. Plus, with the new guidance in the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff, he should also improve his pitching repertoire.
If he stays healthy, Archer should see his fastball velocity take a slight tick upwards. Next season, you should expect an ERA around the low-4s but a pitcher with good command of the strike zone, and able to get many swings and misses. Plus with a solid ground ball rate. Ultimately, with there still being another year of control on his contract, this is the pitcher that could net the Pirates something of value in a trade.