June 20, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) makes his major league debut pitching in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Attempting to Comprehend What We Have Seen From Chris Archer Part 1

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Chris Archer‘s first MLB start went well. He has electric stuff. And his pinch-running exploits have been bizarre. A lot to discuss with Archer and let’s do that right now.

Archer’s MLB career did not get off to a good start this past Wednesday against the Nationals as he allowed a double and then an RBI single to Bryce Harper, and then an E5 was made behind him, scoring another run, and then a wild pitch gave the Nationals a runner on third who would eventually score. So in his first inning of work, Archer allowed 3 runs, although 2 were unearned. After that, though, he was unhittable the rest of the game. After the first inning, Archer faced the minimum 15 batters, only allowing a walk that was erased on a double play, and wound up going 6 innings allowing just the 3 runs, only 1 earned, on 3 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. He threw just 82 pitches, 49 strikes. His groundball to flyball ratio was just 7-7, but it was an extremely impressive debut.

Archer throws a fastball in the mid-90’s along with some sink and solid run away from right-handed batters. His best secondary pitch is a low-80’s slider with sharp break that can force swing-and-miss after swing-and-miss when it’s on. Archer, like seemingly every pitcher in the Rays organization, is also developing a changeup that has shown some promise. Archer’s big problems have always been control and command. Archer has some deception is his delivery and his pitches also feature some nice movement. But those seemingly positive factors cause his release point to fluctuate and sometimes his pitches’ movement takes them right out of the zone. Archer threw 49 pitches for strikes in his debut versus 33 balls, solid but certainly not great, but he was able to force weak contact and get some strikeouts, leading to his nice outing. But as we saw in the first inning, when he misses his spots, he gets hit hard . Archer has the upside of a number two starter in the big leagues, but he’s going to have to tighten up his control and command to get there.

We also got some Pitch F/X data from Archer, so let’s take a look at that so we can visualize the movement on his pitches a little more. The data is from Brooks Baseball while the display is my own.

 

The bizarre thing here is that we just gave the scouting report that Archer has three pitches, and now we see five. What is going on here? Really, there are just three pitches. The sinker was really his fastball, it had basically the same velocity, but the difference was release as Archer got on top of the pitches identified as “sinkers” a little more, leading to more movement. The curveball appears to be a conscious effort- Archer took some velocity off his slider, leading to some more movement. Let’s average the sinker and curveball in with the fastball and slider respectively on this graph to make things a little more clear.

Now we get a better feel for how Archer’s pitches usually move. Archer’s slider features sharp late downward movement as it approaches home plate, and it’s even better because it comes out of the same release point as his fastball. As long as Archer can make it look like a strong long enough to make hitters swing, his slider will be an excellent pitch for him moving forward. Archer’s fastball stands out more for its velocity than anything else, but it does feature some nice horizontal action away from right-handed batter and pretty good sink. The big problem for Archer with his fastball has been throwing it for strikes and commanding it down in the zone- when you leave a pitch with that velocity in a hittable spot, it will get hit hard. We do see that Archer’s changeup, a pitch that he doesn’t utilize much currently, does have some potential as we see just how much it mirrors his fastball (the lines for the fastball and changeup are nearly indistinguishable most of the way to the plate) before the changeup features nice late sink. Archer needs to command it better and establish his fastball more beforehand in order for Archer to become another Rays pitcher with an impressive changeup.

Chris Archer still has a lot of work to do to improve his pitches, but his promise is evident and we saw that in his first MLB start.

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That’s it for Chris Archer the pitcher. We’ll discuss Archer’s historic exploits as a pinch-runner in just a bit.

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