It’s easy to take players for granted when they are doing well. Case in point could be Corey Dickerson, who is far and away the best designated hitter in baseball this season. This is no easy task, and should be celebrated while it’s happening.
Another example could be the steady defense of Evan Longoria or Kevin Kiermaier, two anchors of this Rays team.
An even better example might be Chris Archer and his return to form this season.
Chris Archer (Career stats as of May 25, 2017)
His walk rate has ticked up from 7.6% in 2015 to 8.9% in 2017, but Archer is otherwise essentially the same pitcher he was before his infamous 19-loss season a year ago.
A problem with the long ball (common across baseball last season) dampened his first half results in 2016, even though he rebounded with a 3.25 ERA (3.29 FIP, 3.15 xFIP) and 103 strikeouts in the second half, while cutting his walk rate down to 5.2%.
This year, having fully developed his slider into two distinct pitches -- a hard slider and a standard one -- Archer’s less of a new man and more his old self. The walks are back to being a bit higher than you’d want, but that’s a minor complaint overall. Here’s that hard slider at work:
Filthy 92mph Slider from Chris Archer pic.twitter.com/g4QdH0F2bl— Pitcher List (@ThePitcherList) May 21, 2017
Back in the saddle, Archer has proven to be one of only five pitchers in baseball with a WAR of 1.7 or higher:
MLB Leaderboard (as of May 25, 2017)
|1||Chris Sale||Red Sox||10||73.0||12.45||1.73||0.62||0.261||74.1 %||2.34||1.81||2.45||3.2|
|2||Clayton Kershaw||Dodgers||10||71.2||9.04||1.00||0.88||0.244||83.3 %||2.01||2.63||2.84||2.2|
|3||Zack Greinke||Diamondbacks||10||67.0||10.48||1.61||1.34||0.267||86.3 %||2.82||3.18||2.88||1.7|
|4||Stephen Strasburg||Nationals||9||60.1||8.80||2.54||0.60||0.282||73.7 %||3.28||2.83||3.5||1.7|
|5||Chris Archer||Rays||10||64.2||10.72||3.34||0.84||0.306||73.0 %||3.76||3.06||3.52||1.7|
Chris Archer can legitimately be compared to some of the current luminaries of pitching: Strasburg, Kershaw, Greinke, and in some categories even Sale.
The biggest separators between Archer and the rest of the top five are that Archer has allowed a few more runs and a few more walks, but with his strikeouts trending up he is proving to be just as worthy of the spotlight.
Other contenders for the top five are Mike Leake (Cardinals) and Michael Fulmer (Tigers) who have only nine starts on the year and 1.5 WAR apiece, but neither have the same K-rates, and Archer has struck out 38.5% of batters faced in May (four starts, 104 batters), including 12 Yankees in his most recent start.
Striking out teen homelessness - one after another, after another...— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 22, 2017
Archer strikeout challenge // https://t.co/3Wvb5F2tyD pic.twitter.com/Yak0FVgMbV
And if you like a player who has a strong clubhouse and community presence, Archer is surely your guy. He created his foundation even before he signed his first big contract; has emerged as mentor for pitchers coming up after him, and has represented MLB as a baseball ambassador at home and in trips to South Africa and Taiwan. Is there any question that, if Chris Archer played for a bigger market team, he would be getting a lot more respect and attention?
This is not to say that Archer’s name never comes up in national baseball media.
It does come up -- but nearly always as the trade target for some other team. And when you read the trade ideas floated out there, it is clear that the commentariat has no clue what he is worth.
Here is just one example: Recently, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers suggested Javier Baez, a bench player for the Cubs with a similar skillset to the recently acquired Matt Duffy, could be the centerpiece of a trade for Archer. Matt Duffy was one of three pieces needed to acquire a year and a half of Matt Moore, and the trade still required two top-30 prospects.
For some context, heading into this season Chris Archer’s trade value was considered to be higher than that of Chris Sale, who has been a dominant pitcher this season and cost a fortune for Boston to acquire, with only two years remaining on his contract.
Is Javier Baez’s trade value comparable to that of Yoan Moncada? Fangraphs estimates Yoan Moncada to be worth ~17 WAR and hasn’t made the Show, while Javier Baez has been worth ~3 WAR over his first 1.5 years in the majors, with 4.5 years remaining. The Rays valued Baez highly enough to feel he was worth a (rumored) trade of Alex Cobb two offseasons ago, so perhaps the Rays would be interested, but I’m not convinced Archer’s talent (and intangible contributions) are being fairly valued in the media.
We are putting aside, for the moment, the question of whether the Rays would even listen to offers on Archer at the deadline; certainly as of today they are a competitive team:
Really? MLB Central has nothing better to talk about than "Where should Chris Archer be traded?" It's not even Memorial Day! #Rays— Steve Carney (@stevecarney) May 25, 2017
But even if that were to change, the Rays would surely need to be presented with a Chris Sale-type package before they would pull the chute on an Archer deal.
Chris Archer goes back to the mound tonight in his eleventh start of the year. Instead of saying he should be pitching somewhere else (like when Vice Sports recently wrote that Chris Archer was better than the Tampa Bay deserves), the national media should just be giving him (and those of us who cheer for him) some damn respect.
If you haven’t taken notice, it’s time to appreciate that Chris Archer is back to his ace ways. And if you have, just enjoy the ride.