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Chris Archer on deck for Cy Young season

Chris Archer is working on his changeup, and it could propel him into the superstar tier.

Chris Archer would be lethal with a third pitch.
Chris Archer would be lethal with a third pitch.
Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Archer is an all-around great human being. He volunteers his time and heart to the community in a multitude of ways. He started his own foundation to help youth reach their goals. He signed a team-friendly contract to secure his future and stay in the Tampa Bay area longer.  He supports his teammates and seems to relish a leadership role in the clubhouse.

Even after a few years in the spotlight, Archer continues to provide thoughtful responses to journalist and fan questions.  I think we've all fallen just a little bit in love with the guy.

On the field he is an All-Star at the top of the Rays rotation with two elite pitches, and he's working on a third that could propel him to the next tier of ballplayers.

He is a superstar person working toward becoming a superstar player. That could happen as early as this season in 2016.

2015 Performance

Strikeouts don't seem nearly as impressive when you watch 252 of the them crammed into one video, but this is six months of dealing in five minutes. Enjoy!

Season Games Innings K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
2015 34 212.0 10.7 2.8 0.81 .295 3.23 2.90 3.01 5.3
2014 32 194.2 8.00 3.33 0.55 .296 3.33 3.39 3.70 3.2

Chris Archer improved his performance in 2015 in almost every way. He squeezed in two more games and pitched more innings per game. He was second only to Chris Sale in strikeouts in the AL. He walked fewer batters than he had the year before, gave up fewer runs, and was far more valuable overall. His 5.3 fWAR was good for fifth best in the AL. You couldn't reasonably ask for much more than what he gave the Rays last year. It was a stellar season.

The Change Up

What these stats do not show, however, is that Archer waned towards the end of the year. Maybe the added workload and responsibility wore on him, but I don't think that was it. My hypothesis:  Archer took a different approach at the end of the season, once the team was out of playoff contention.  His velocity lost a tick, strikeouts were harder to come by and the walks ballooned. Maybe he wasn't operating at 100%, but there I would like to suggest that he was holding back a bit to minimize injury risk, and using the time to work on his change up. Take a look at this.

Archer CH Usage Per Game

The data show a trend toward more change-up usage toward the end of the year. If you think of Chris Archer as being in "change up development mode" for that part of the season, the rest of his season stats look all the better. Let's run with it. This is what Archer looked like when he was trying, compared to when he may have been developing his change up:

Chris Archer Games Innings K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
4/6-8/15 25 160.0 10.91 2.31 0.79 .293 2.93 2.67 2.75 -
8/20-10/3 9 52.0 10.04 4.33 0.87 .302 4.15 3.60 3.79 -

So he was noticeably worse during that time span when he was throwing more change ups. But here's the thing; his change up is actually very good. It has some of the best contrasting movement relative to the fastball by a starter in the entire game. That's why he's been trying to get it into his routine.

The issue is controlling the rest of his pitches, particularly the fastball, when he brings the third pitch to the table. If he can figure that out this spring training, Archer will have everything he needs to be the best pitcher in the American League.

Chris Archer spoke after a recent outing, noting how difficult it was for Jim Hickey to distinguish between his change-up and his elite slider from the dugout viewpoint. Even the park scorers had mistakenly called the pitch a slider on multiple occasions.

Archer says this is a good thing, because it tells him how late the movement comes, which would obviously make the pitch more difficult for batters to pick up. Here's the interview:

2016 Projections

Projection System Games Innings K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Steamer 32 198.0 9.37 2.88 0.81 .287 3.24 3.28 4.1
ZiPS 33 195.1 9.31 3.04 0.74 .305 3.23 3.24 4.2
Marcels 185.0 9.2 3.0 0.8 3.41

The projection systems think Chris Archer takes a step back in 2016. I suppose their job is to be boring and regress performances closer to major league average. They don't know about the potential of Archer's change up. They don't think Archer will have a Cy Young caliber year.

The crazy thing is, he doesn't even need the change up to compete for the award. He placed fifth in voting for it last year, and he may have let up for the last month of the season.

The change up is a plus pitch. Chris Archer could be lethal if he ever learns to control all three pitches at the same time. Cy Young worthy. And if he doesn't, he's still an ace.

What a time to be alive.