Reinventing Chris Archer

If you’re a Rays fan, you know a thing or two about Chris Archer. You know about his big smile and even bigger personality. You know that he was (one of the players) acquired from the Cubs for Matt Garza. You know that he quickly became a top prospect, and that be he broke through in 2012 as an ace in the making. You know that when David Price was traded away two years later, it was Archer who was the heir apparent to the top of the rotation.

But if you’re a Rays fan, you also know about his struggles over the bast two seasons. You also know that he hasn’t quite panned out into the ace he was supposed to be.

So we can do one of two things here. We can accept Archer, who turns 30 in September, for what he is–as the league average pitcher he’s been for the last two years, or, we can attempt to figure out how he got here. And if we can to that, maybe we can figure out how he can adjust.

Archer’s arsenal (say that 5 times fast) is pretty straight forward. It includes a mid to high 90’s fastball, a high 80’s, sometimes low 90’s slider, and a very occasional changeup. Though his changeup is brilliant at times, it is the first pitch he gives up on. With that said, he’s essentially a two pitch pitcher.

To prove it, Here is Archer’s all time pitch usage chart.

According to the chart, Archer’s fastball and slider represent about a 55/40 split, respectively, with the changeup making up the remaining 5%. These splits were reminiscent of the aforementioned Price early in his career. But the difference between Archer and Price is that While Archer has stuck with his 2 and a half pitch repertoire, Price developed other pitches on his way to becoming a legitimate ace. The way I see it, Archer could make any one of three adjustments.

Throw the changeup more

The biggest thing that Archer is missing is variation in velocity. According to the chart, anywhere from 90-95% of his pitches are 90+. Throwing the changeup more would give him the variation he needs. It’s around the same velocity as the slider (maybe a tick or two slower), and it moves the opposite way.

The problem is that Archer seems unconfident in the pitch. Every spring it’s a story that he’s working on it, but every season his usage goes virtually unchanged. It’s clear that if Archer is going to throw another pitch more often, it’s not going to be the changeup, so let’s move on.

Throw the slider more

Seems like the opposite of what I just said, right? Stay with me.

Take a look at Patrick Corbin.

Corbin’s slider has always been his out pitch, but it wasn’t until the second half of last year that he began to consistently throw it more than his 4 seam fastball. What resulted was an ERA that was a run and a half better than his first half. This year, he’s not only thrown the slider even more, he’s ditched the changeup completely. The result? In 6 starts so far in 2018, Corbin is 4-0 with a 198 ERA+. He is striking out batters to a ridiculous 12.4 SO/9 clip–better than Archer ever has.

How could this approach benefit Archer?

Conventional wisdom always says that pitchers ‘should pitch off the fastball.’ But why? Hitter like fastballs. It’s their favorite pitch. Why should a pitcher base his game around it if it’s not his best pitch? We know Archer’s best pitch is his slider, and it’s why he gets so many strikeouts. Forget his numbers, it’s one of the best pitches in the game. But no matter how many times he thrown the slider, hitters will still have to respect the high 90’s fastball. Instead of throwing a changeup, varying the speed on the breaking ball can give him he difference in velocity he needs.

Which brings my to me next point.

The Uncle Charlie

Chris Archer threw one curveball in his major league career. It was in June of 2012 and it was 75 MPH. Being that his slider averaged less than 85 MPH back then, that same curveball would probably be around 80-82 today. My point is, it’s there. Even at low 80’s, thats still a considerable change in velocity. Archer himself says he thinks curve when he throws the slider, so again, it’s in there. Even price had to develop a curveball if he wanted to stay in a major league rotation, so why shouldn’t Archer?

If he can mix in the curve, while pitching off the slider, the curve essentially becomes a changeup. This may seem like a radical idea, but it’s not. Lance McCullers is already doing it.

Here’s the video of him closing out the ALCS against the Yankees when he threw 24 breaking balls in a row, varying velocity, movement, and location with each one.

Archer can do this too.

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