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Rays 2017 Season Preview: Chris Archer

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Archer was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He spent two years in the Indians farm system before being traded to the Cubs before the 2009 season.

After spending one year pitching in Low-A ball for the Peoria Chiefs, Archer broke out during the 2010 season pitching to a 15-3 win-loss record with a 2.34 ERA between Single-A (Daytona Cubs) and Double-A (Tennessee Smokies). After the season, he was named the Cubs 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

In January of 2011, the Cubs packaged Archer along with Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, and Sam Fuld to the Rays for Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zac Rosscup. After a year and a half of some inconsistent but promising outings (combined mix because of a poor ERA yet elite swing and miss/strikeout rates) he made his MLB debut, allowing three hits and one earned run while recording seven strikeouts in six innings against the Indians.

Archer spent the first half of the 2013 season in Durham, but was called up on June 1 for what would be the majority of the rest of the season, finishing with a 9–7 record with a 3.22 ERA in 23 starts. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting, earning the best marks in ERA, opponents' batting average (.226), complete games (two), shutouts (two), and WHIP (1.13).

On April 2, 2014, Archer and the Rays agreed to a six-year extension worth $25.5 million guaranteed. He would go on to pitch to a 10-9 record with a 3.33 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 194 23 innings pitched in 2014.

Breakout

Then came 2015, the year Archer officially broke onto the national scene. After posting elite stats (9-5, 2.18 ERA, 141 K’s, .196 opponents BA) through the season’s first three months, Archer was named to his first All-Star team. Archer finished fifth in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and became the ace of the Rays staff.

After the 2015 season ended, Archer provided guest color commentary for ESPN in their coverage of the 2015 American League Wild Card Game, and also served as a guest commentator for Baseball Tonight and ESPN Radio during that year’s World Series. To few people’s surprise, he received high praise for his insightful, thoughtful, and informative commentary/analysis during the stretch.

2016 Season

After a strong 2015 season, Archer was a favorite among many baseball writers (locally and nationally) to take home the Cy Young Award. However, Archer struggled mightily in the first half of the season posting a 4-12 record with 4.66 ERA (plus a whoppin’ 18 HR’s) before the All-Star break. That said, he rebounded quite nicely after the All-Star break posting a 3.25 ERA in 99.1 innings pitched (14 starts).

Archer finished 2016 with a 9-19 record while finishing with an ERA over 4.00 for the first time since 2012.

Now, why did Chris Archer underperform expectations in 2016? Charlie Maikis suggests Archer faltered in 2016 because he struggled mightily with the long ball giving up a career-high 30 home runs (T-9th most in the MLB), which was possibly a consequence of lost command on his fastball.

Opponents were all over his fastball. Although he threw fastballs about 6% less of the time compared to 2015, when he did throw it, opponents pounded it to the tune of a 0.527 slugging percentage. Furthermore, he surrendered 17 homers against his fastball, just two less than he did on all pitches the entirety of 2015.

Was it command or something more? We are continuing to investigate at the site.

Looking Ahead

The 28-year old flamethrower is still loaded with talent. Not many pitchers can strike out 233 batters (T-2nd in the AL) in one season. Archer did last year, which is further evidence that he still possesses elite swing-and-miss stuff.

That “stuff” all begins with the fastball. If he can keep the pitch down in the zone with regularity, his numbers should improve across the board. When he fails to keep the fastball low, that’s when things seem to go wrong and batters start sending the 93+mph pitch into the outfield stands.

Batters haven’t quite been able to key in on his changeup and slider over the years, but the graph below suggests they’ve locked in on his fastball.

He still possesses one of the nastiest pitches in all of baseball with his slider, inducing 275 swinging strikes and holding opponents to a mere 0.311 slugging percentage against it in 2015.

If he can manage to repair what was a broken fastball last season, one could predict he will return to the pitching brilliance he manifested in 2015.

Best-Case Scenario: Archer re-emerges as one of baseball’s best starting pitchers, mowing down hitters with a commanding/powerful fastball and a filthy slider. Winds up anchoring one of baseball’s best staff’s into postseason contention. Finishes with an ERA under 3.30 and a WHIP around 1.07.

Worst-Case Scenario: Archer struggles with command and pitch location, his velocity dips, and it turns out he isn’t quite good enough to lead a playoff-contending rotation.

So...what should we really expect?

Steamer projects Archer to finish 13-10 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.40 FIP, 9.09 K/9, 3.34 BB/9 while accruing a WAR of 4.1 in 199 innings.. These projections seem just about right to me.

If those projections hold true, one would suggest that he will bounce back quite nicely from a down year.

I believe there is reason to suggest that Archer will outperform his 2016 ways but won’t quite show the brilliance of his 2015 masterpiece. Hence, hopefully we will have the privilege of watching a highly productive and entertaining Archer in 2017.