Staying on Target: Chris Archer fights to right his control

By Robbie Knopf

Chris Archer has nasty stuff. He throws a fastball in the mid-90’s with late downward movement, but it’s not even his best pitch. His throws his slider that ranged from the high-80’s to low-90’s from the same arm slot as his fastball, and it forces tons of swings and misses with it’s sharp break down and away from right-handed batters. He also throws a changeup with some nice sink along with a curveball. That’s the type of arsenal that should make Archer a dominant pitcher. But instead, Archer struggled to a mediocre at best 2011. Why can’t Archer put it all together?

In 25 starts for Double-A Montgomery in 2011, Archer went 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 134.1 IP. He struck out 118, a solid 7.9 K/9, but he walked 80, an awful 5.4 BB/9. There lies Archer’s problem: control. For his career, Archer has posted a horrible 5.2 BB/9. The one full season, 2010, in which he posted a BB/9 under 5.0, he was absolutely in control, posting a 2.34 ERA and a 9.1 K/9. But even that season, Archer posted a 5.0 BB/9 when he was promoted from High-A to Double-A. There have been stretches when Archer has been unhittable, but they’ve all been transient and he never been able to have a full season with anywhere near average control. Maybe his pitches move too much, too dynamically. The movement on Archer’s pitches is what makes him so effective. But it also makes him extremely inconsistent.

I detailed back in July how basically everywhere Archer has gone in the minor leagues, he has started off strong before completely collapsing after the league recognizes him. But if Archer can simply establish the strike zone, he has nothing to worry about. Other than in the first half of 2010, Archer was the kind of pitcher that batters can guess on. Since Archer throws way too few strikes, if you get the pitch you’re not looking for, you can take it and it will likely be a ball. Once the batter gets the pitch he’s looking for, he can slam it. Scouting reports, even in the minor leagues, have become so much more detailed, and hitters know how Archer’s pitches move by now. But if Archer could keep hitters on their toes and not just waiting for a specific pitch by just throwing more pitches for strikes, the hitters would lose that advantage against him. But how can that happen now? Archer is 23 now and entering his 7th professional season. Is there any way that Archer can harness his potential?

Archer is the biggest wild card in the upper levels of the Rays system. With improved control, Archer could put it all together and become a top-of-the-line big league starter. If not, he’s destined for the bullpen and even there he could struggle unless he can improve his strikeout to walk ratio. Archer has shown flashes, and it’s now it’s time for him to start gaining some consistency. Maybe the answer is that Archer needs to work more off his fastball, the pitch he can control best, and use his slider a bit more sparingly. His fastball is a very good pitch that grades out as a major league plus, and if he can get through an opposing team’s batting order with that pitch while keeping his slider in his back pocket, he’ll be much harder to hit later in games. Maybe an arm slot adjustment or more consistent mechanics could help Archer. The Rays’ minor league pitching coordinators have to be thinking of some way to get Archer on track. Archer might have the second-highest upside of any pitcher in the Rays’ organization including the major leagues, trailing only Matt Moore. But can he deal with this control problem and ascend towards that upside?