Chris Archer has always had questions with two things- his command and his changeup. The command has come a long way, and while he still needs to work on the consistency of it, it is much better than in the past. His changeup was the more talked about of the two this spring training, and the Rays were working hard on continuing the development of it. So where does the changeup stand now?
By the end of spring training, it looked great. In fact, one scout even told ESPN’s Jayson Stark that Archer now had a “plus changeup“. While that might have been a slight over exaggeration, the pitch had made huge strides and it was easy to call it above-average after it had been well below in previous years. There’s no question that Archer’s plus fastball-slider combination was still going to be what he relied on to get outs. But now, his changeup was going to be used as more than just a show-me pitch, and it would give him a great way to change speeds from his hard fastball and slider. Here’s the problem though- Archer has only thrown his changeup 3.9% of the time this year despite throwing it 7.2% of the time last year (info courtesy of Fangraphs). Why would Archer make huge strides with the pitch, and then throw it just half the amount that he threw it last year, especially with the inconsistency he has experienced?
The reason that Archer hasn’t used the changeup is because of the increased usage of his two-seam fastball. This season, Archer has thrown his four-seamer 24.2% of the time and his two-seamer 38.5% of the time. This is in contrast to throwing his four-seamer 37.2% of the time and his two-seamer 22.5% of the time in 2013 (hat tip to Fangraphs again). Brooks Baseball tells us that in his career, Archer’s two-seamer (called a sinker by Brooks Baseball, but the two pitches are the exact same thing) has had more downward break than his changeup, though in a small sample size this year the changeup has had more downward movement. The two-seamer in his career has also had more horizontal movement, and the disparity between the two has only increased this season (Brooks Baseball again with the info). So based on this info, it seems the pitches are fairly even in terms of movement, but the changeup comes with the advantage of being thrown at a slower speed. But what really makes the two-seamer stand apart is its ability to get ground balls. Brooks Baseball shows that in Archer’s career, groundballs are hit 10% of the time when Archer throws a two-seamer, but when he throws a changeup, groundballs are only hit 6% of the time. So this means Archer commands the two-seamer down in the zone much better than the changeup, and that is why he continues to throw it more often, despite the fact that his changeup is much improved. Both pitches are designed to induce grounders by providing vertical movement to the lower half of the zone- the only difference is that the changeup comes with the added advantage of being slower, but you have to be able to command the pitch to capatlize on that advantage. Archer, a pitcher who has battled command issues his entire career, does a better job of using his two-seamer to induce grounders. Therefore, the two-seamer is his pitch of choice instead of the changeup, and that is likely to continue until he proves that he can command the changeup down in the zone.
Chris Archer’s changeup has come a long way, and it is a nice addition to his arsenal. But, his two-seamer that features nice sink has been overlooked his entire career, and it is the true pitch that he relies on when he needs to throw the ball down in the zone and induce a ground ball. The changeup may be the better pitch down the road, but Archer still has issues throwing it down in the zone. He has no reason to throw it with regularity when his two-seamer has similar movement, but can be commanded with more effectiveness. Chris Archer is a talented pitcher, and as he continues to make progress with his command and the development of his changeup, he is only going to be a better pitcher because of it.