When a Jeremy Hellickson injury opened up a rotation spot, Chris Archer came up to the Rays to replace him, making his pro debut. Archer made two starts, going 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA, but he struck out 14 while walking just 2 in 11.2 innings pitched. Could Archer be a pitcher who could step up to be a big part of the Rays’ pennant chase in September?
Archer’s Triple-A numbers are not all that impressive. On the season, he has gone 7-9 with a 3.76 ERA, a 9.9 K/9, a 4.5 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 24 starts and 122 IP. According to Minor League Central, his groundball rate is solid but unspectacular at 45.3%. But since returning from the major leagues, Archer went 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA, striking out 44 while walking just 16 in 45.1 innings pitched. Archer has always been an enigmatic pitcher thanks to control issues, but his time in the major leagues appears to have really settled him down.
But the bigger reason why the Rays are excited about Archer is his pure stuff. Archer throws a mid-90’s fastball with good movement away from right-handed batters, a devastating low-80’s slider, and a solid low-80’s changeup. Archer has electric stuff. There is no question about that. The question has always been whether he could throw his pitches for strikes and locate his pitches within the zone. Archer has struck out 7.9 or more batters per 9 innings every season as a pro. But his walk rate has been 3.8 or more per 9 every season. We saw Matt Moore, another pitcher with a history of control problems, struggle mightily with control and command in 2012 even after posting a 2.9 BB/9 in 2011 in the minors and 2.7 in 2010. Archer is several steps behind Moore. Archer did walk just 2 batters in his first 2 big league starts, but he managed just a 27.6% groundball rate as hitters elevated a lot of balls against him. There is plenty of reason to suspect that Archer may never get past his command problems, at least in the near future.
Archer’s control problems have prompted some evaluators to view him as more of a late inning reliever than a starting pitcher moving forward. Archer’s long-term role has yet to be determined, but this September, Archer has a chance to put his electric arsenal to use out of the bullpen. And even as a rookie, Archer has the ability to be a big part of the Rays’ bullpen right now.