Game 76 Preview: Can Rays’ Chris Archer Return to His 2012 Dominance?

By Robbie Knopf

Chris Archer‘s ERA in his 6 big league appearances in 2012 was 4.60 and his record was just 1-3. But those numbers didn’t let fool Rays fans–they knew they were seeing something special. Archer went neck-and-neck with Stephen Strasburg in his major league debut and struck out 11 Texas Rangers in 7 dominant innings. Overall, Archer struck out 36 while walking just 13 in 29.1 innings pitched, using his mid-90’s fastball and devastating slider to make hitters look silly This season, though, has been a different story. Archer’s ERA is virtually the same, coming in at 5.03, and his record is once again 1-3. However, he has been exponentially more enigmatic, striking out just 18 while walking 14 in 19.2 innings. Rays fans thought that he was entirely deserving of a rotation spot coming out of spring training. How has a pitcher who seemed so talented been so ineffective replacing David Price this season.

What’s surprising about Archer’s struggles is that his stuff has actually been better. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball velocity has jumped from 94.6 MPH to 96.0 MPH, and that’s despite the fact that Archer has been exclusively a starter in 2013 after both starting and relieving last season. The issue, though, has been that he has struggled through manifold issues controlling it, right? Archer’s walk rate has jumped from 4.0 per 9 innings to 6.2 per 9, and considering he’s throwing his fastball harder, it must be that he just can’t locate it. But Archer has actually thrown his fastball for a strike 54% of the time, a decrease but still very close. His command of the pitch has actually improved as he has forced a 3.75 to 1 groudball to flyball ratio compared to 2.20 to 1 in 2012. His slider has been about the same, missing the zone a little more often but forcing a few more whiffs. So what’s the difference? Archer’s changeup.

The Rays stated that they sent him back down to Triple-A to work on his command and changeup, and sure enough, he’s throwing his changeup a lot more in his second big league go-around, jumping its usage from 8% of his pitches to 16%. The results, however, have been horrific as he’s not missing any bats, forcing swings-and-misses just 6.7% of the time, only half the league average, and a lot of flyballs, managing just a 0.80 to 1 groundball to flyball ratio. Archer’s best two pitches have always been his fastball and slider, yet he has been throwing his changeup so much more often than ever before. Why? Because no matter how nasty your stuff is, big league hitters will adjust. Archer’s continued development will depend on the improvement on the changeup. But what does Archer need to do now to find success? He has to stop forcing the issue and throw his changeup at more reasonable levels. It doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to throw your changeup more if it isn’t a good pitch. Archer has to get back to his fastball-slider, pitches that big league hitters have had so much issues with the past the couple of years, and throw his fastball for more strikes to find success. Hopefully Archer’s changeup will eventually become a third weapon. But that’s now right now, and he has to adjust.