On Saturday, Chris Archer gave the Rays an incredible outing, going 7 innings allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 11 while walking 2. Obviously every start will no go anywhere near this well for Archer, but does Archer have the ability to dominate like that on any given outing moving forward?
It’s one thing to succeed in your first couple major league starts. It’s another thing entirely to succeed for years and years. Scouting information comes around and no matter how good you look early on, you have to make adjustments or major league hitters will hit you hard. And besides that, over a small sample size, luck can be a significant factor for a pitcher. When hitters make adjustments and luck doesn’t go his way, Archer will go back to being the enigmatic prospect he was known to be. But it was the same way for Matt Moore, and look how good he has been in the second half of the season.
Chris Archer’s repertoire is about as good as it gets. He throws a mid-90’s fastball and not a straight one, missing bats thanks to nice run away from right-handed batters along with solid sink. But when you’re talking about generating swings-and-misses, it’s hard to find a pitch that has the ability to do that more often that Archer’s devastating slider in the mid-80’s, which comes out of the same arm slot as his fastball with dynamic late downward movement and also the magnitude of the movement is excellent for a slider. And then you have Archer’s changeup, which is still a work in progress as Archer needs to work on his arm slot and arm action on it, but it features nice sink and has the ability to be another weapon.
Archer’s problem, something that hitters haven’t been able to advantage of too often yet, is controlling his pitches and commanding his pitches within the zone. The best example of that was when his usually sharp-breaking slider didn’t break at all and stayed up in the zone and Josh Hamilton hit it a long way for his 40th homer of the season. Archer has trouble repeating his delivery and getting on top of his pitches. He rarely is able to locate his fastball down in the zone and depends on its horizontal movement to keep hitters off-balance. His slider is great most of the time, but he hangs it too often at this point and that is going to cost him dearly if it isn’t fixed. And Archer’s changeup is not even a major league average pitch right now as he throws it out of a different arm slot, slows his arm action when he throws it, and fails to get on top of it sometimes, turning it into an 80 MPH BP fastball. What has this done to Archer? He has generated just a 0.58 groundout to airout ratio compared to the 1.12 league average. To put that in perspective, Moore is a 0.74, 22% better. Allowing flyballs won’t hurt you every single outing, but every flyball has a chance to turn into a home run or an extra-base hit and the more you allow the higher the chance you get into trouble with extra-base hits. Archer hasn’t walked very many batters yet, but when hitters are more familiar with his pitches, they’ll lay off his slider more often until he can prove he can throw it for a strike consistently, putting a lot of strain on his fastball and changeup and he’s not a pitcher who is able to survive when his slider isn’t effective at this point.
Chris Archer has a ton of potential. He has the ability to be another number one type starter someday. But his development is just beginning. On Saturday, we saw the type of start that Archer could put together about as often as anyone in the big leagues over the next few years. But before that happens, Archer has a ton of work still to do to. There’s a lot of reason to be excited about Chris Archer. But don’t expect too much too soon and realize that no matter how good he has looked so far, there are tons of improvements that Archer needs to make. The scary thing for opposing hitters is that once that happens, Archer has a chance to look even better than he did yesterday.