It was not that long ago that Chris Archer’s future was in serious question. Since the moment the Rays acquired him in the Matt Garza trade, everyone knew that CHris Archer had tremendous stuff. But then in 2011, in his first season in the organization, Archer managed just a 130-86 strikeout to walk ratio in 147.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, not locating his pitches enough to live to his potential. The start of 2012 held more of the same–Archer was 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA in his first 14 starts of the season. But then Jeremy Hellickson got hurt and suddenly there Archer was making his big league debut opposite Stephen Strasburg. He lost, but we saw the potential. The rest of the season, Archer had his moments: striking out 11 against the Rangers and escaping a bases-loaded, no out job in a critical game against the Orioles–but Archer wound up appearing just 6 big league games total with the Rays’ rotation not having a vacancy after Hellickson returned. Nevertheless, Rays fans were excited to see what Archer would do in 2013 and befuddled when the Rays sent him back to Triple-A to begin the season. Once Archer arrived, however, no one could complain about how he pitched.
Archer’s first four starts of the season for the Rays did not go well. He managed just a 5.03 ERA and an 18-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 19.2 innings pitched, completing five innings just once. Did Archer’s command disappear as quickly as it had clicked when he arrived in the major leagues? Were we overconfident about just how much of a sure thing Archer was? The next three starts saw Archer slowly improving, putting up a 3.18 ERA across 17 innings. Then suddenly, he was a star. Archer tossed a 5-hit shutout against the Houston Astros, and after 7 innings of 1-run ball against the Blue Jays, he 2-hit the New York Yankees. Instead of wondering whether Archer could succeed in the major leagues, the questions shifted to just how good he could be.
Archer fell back to earth from there, but his numbers to end the year were still outstanding. Archer went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA, striking out 101 while walking just 38 in 128.2 innings pitched. With his mid-90′s fastball and sharp slider blowing away hitters and his changeup showing flashes of being a third weapon, Archer ranked second to Alex Cobb in ERA among the Rays’ starting pitchers, edging out David Price and Matt Moore. One great season doesn’t mean that Chris Archer has solved all of his issues and is necessarily going to be another frontline starting pitcher. But at the end of the day, Archer entered the season with high expectations and outperformed them, and that is something extremely impressive. He may not be Rookie of the Year–some guy named Wil Myers looks like the favorite for that–but Archer established himself as being exactly as good as we thought and just maybe more. In a Rays rotation moments away from turmoil with a David Price trade oncoming, the Rays know that they can count on Archer to help them maintain the quality starting pitcher that has become synonymous with Rays baseball the last six years.