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Chris Archer’s revival has everything to do with his Slider

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After a shaky start, is Archer back to all-star level performance?

Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

On Wednesday Chris Archer pitched his best game of the year. The Rays ace tossed 7.1 innings while striking out 9. He gave up four hits and walked just one batter over 107 pitches, earning a game score of 83. With this dominant start, Archer continued his trend of blazing through the second half of the season. Four of his best five games this season based on Fangraphs GSv2 (which stands for Game Score Version 2.0 and "is baselined to both season and league" — more detail on GSv2 here) have occurred since July.

Looking at Archer’s splits between the first and second half splits we can see a huge improvement over the beginning of the 2nd half.

Innings K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
1st Half 110 10.64 3.93 2.71 1.47 26.9% 9.9% 16.9% 0.253 1.44 0.321 71.0% 4.24 3.62
2nd Half 47 10.72 1.53 7 0.96 30.3% 4.3% 26.0% 0.199 0.91 0.261 70.3% 2.72 2.83

He is striking out more batters (30.3% in the 2nd half compared to 26.9% in the 1st half) and walking far fewer (4.3% v 9.9%) since the All-Star break. His FIP has dropped from 4.24 to 2.72 and his BABIP has gone from .321 to a .261 which is closer to his career BABIP of .289. Archer has silenced the critics who have claimed that he has lost his mechanics or was simply a product of a good stretch of starts in 2015 by proving that he can still be the pitcher who was receiving CY Young consideration.

GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/9 IFFB% HR/FB IFH% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
1st Half 1.39 21.3% 45.8% 32.9% 18.2% 7.1% 18.2% 5.1% 36.5% 34.2% 29.3% 17.8% 47.7% 34.5%
2nd Half 1.26 16.7% 46.5% 36.8% 11.9% 9.5% 11.9% 3.8% 39.2% 36.7% 24.2% 12.5% 55.8% 31.7%

Looking at his batted ball profile, some of the line drives have turned into fly balls and his ground ball rate has improved slightly. He is giving up fewer soft and hard hit balls as over 55% of his batted balls in the 2nd half have been of the medium variety. Given that Archer’s batted ball profile in 2016 is almost identical to 2015, I expect to see more soft and hard contact going forward which should more evenly split his fly balls and line drives.

wFB wSL wCH
1st Half -13.2 7.5 -2
2nd Half 0.6 5.9 2.9

Another big reason for his 2nd half success has been his incredible slider. During the 1st half of the season Archer’s slider ranked 17th in MLB at a wSL of 7.5 pitch value, so far since play resumed after the All-Star game his slider is ranked 2nd in MLB at 5.9 (trailing only John Lackey’s 7.7). Watching Archer twirl has famous slider is great fun for a Rays fan(see below video for evidence). Archer also has thrown the 5th best change-up in baseball at wCH 3.4 in the second half which plays a big part in his 2nd half dominance.

We can tell that Archer has gone to his slider at a higher rate in the 2nd half than he did before the break which has helped him out immensely. The second chart shows that his batting average against his slider is at an all-year low of 0.167 and has continued to improve as the season progresses (the jump in July is due to Archer’s last two starts in the first half where posted season-low wSL of -0.1 twice).

Graphs gathered from BrooksBaseball.

Conclusion

By perfecting and then relying on his best pitch, Archer has once again shown that he is one of the elite pitchers in baseball when he is on top of his game. He has generated more fly balls and fewer line drives by giving up more medium and less hard contact.

Watching Archer is fun again, as he can clearly blow away opposing hitters. This provides Rays fans with some joy during this largely disappointing season.