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Season Preview: Three Things to Expect from Chris Archer

MLB: Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A blast from the past, Chris Archer is a Ray again! In the two and a half seasons since we’ve last seen him, quite a bit has changed. Following his 2018 mid-season trade, Archer had the worst season of his career with the Pirates, and then was out for the entire 2020 season due to thoracic outlet surgery.

While the jury is still out on Archer’s recovery and ability to execute the way he did at his peak, there are three things that we can expect for Archer now that he is back with the Rays.

1. Saying Goodbye to the Sinker

Chris Archer started throwing his sinker more frequently after joining the Pirates in 2018. Pitches that are low in the zone with high movement and high velocity (like a sinker) tend to result in higher ground ball rates. The Pirates’ strategy is to throw these kinds of pitches low in the zone to increase the percentage of ground balls.

While that may work for some pitchers, it was not a fit with Archer. In fact, Archer’s ground ball rate dropped over 8% from 2018 to 2019, his first full season with the Pirates. In addition, the opponent SLG against his sinker in 2019 was .698.

There are two reasons why his sinker wasn’t as effective as hoped:

  1. It gets below average movement
  2. It looks too much like his fourseam

Archer still has his fourseam, change-up, and his signature slider. Eliminating the sinker can only help.

2. His Fourseam will get Hit

Even at his peak, Archer’s fourseam was a hittable pitch. Taking a look at the opponent SLG on his fourseam, we can see that, with the exception of 2015, it’s always been over .500.

One of the reasons why the opponent SLG is on the higher side may be its location. While Archer’s fourseam does have above average carry, it is landing in the heart of the zone.

It’s going to be important this season for him to get it on the upper edge to avoid that hard contact.

Another reason why we can expect his fourseam to get hit is its reduction in velocity. From 2017 to 2019, Archer’s fourseam velocity has decreased from an average of 96 mph to 94 mph.

While 2 mph does not seem like a big deal, it can be a huge difference to hitters, and it might be playing into his recent struggles. The reduced velocity brings his fastball closer to the velocity of his slider. Typically, the more variance in velocity, the more a pitcher can keep a hitter off balance. The velocity reduction also brought Archer’s fourseam from 89th percentile velocity to 69th percentile in the league.

3. He’s Got a New Wind-up

Prior to his surgery, Archer was using a slightly different wind-up in Pittsburgh. The differences include:

  1. Archer’s starting position on the mound
  2. The angle of Archer’s arm mid-throw and his release point

When Archer was with the Rays, he started his wind-up a few inches off the edge of the rubber. During his time with the Pirates, however, he shifted and started lining up directly at the edge of the rubber on the first base side of the mound.

Check out the comparison below:

The other change in Archer’s wind-up appears in his arm angle and release point. In his time with the Rays, Archer had a wider arm angle mid-throw. During his time with the pirates, that angle narrowed and his arm had more vertical action.

The red dashed lines in the comparison from Baseball Savant below help visualize the angle change.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw even more tweaks to Archer’s wind-up as a result of his surgery, particularly in his arm slot and release point.

Archer is definitely not the same pitcher we saw a few years ago. Even those optimistic about his potential to contribute are probably not expecting a 200 inning, 200 strikeout season, but it’s easy to see that an effective Archer can have an important role in this team.