Looking Back, Moving Forward: Chris Archer

By Drew Jenkins

Since being acquired before the 2011 season as part of a package for Matt Garza, Chris Archer has been among the Rays’ top pitching prospects. Touted to have a great fastball-slider combination, Archer also came with the expectation of a few too many walks. Archer has consistently gotten better as he has moved up through the Rays system, improving command of his pitches while also working on the development of his changeup. All the hard work finally paid off for Archer in 2013.

Archer began the season as part of a Durham Bulls’ rotation that some called the best Triple-A rotation in the last decade. After pitching to a 3.96 ERA in 10 starts with Durham, Archer was promoted to the big leagues and never looked back. Not only did Archer stick in the big leagues, but he became one of the Rays’ most consistent starters. After a rough first appearance that saw Archer give up 5 earned runs in four innings against Cleveland on June 1st, Archer was very good. Over his next ten starts, Archer never gave up more than three runs, include a four game stretch in which he gave up just one run and threw two complete-game shutouts. Archer did tire a bit down the stretch. After posting a 0.73 ERA in July, Archer would post a 3.63 ERA in August and a 4.78 ERA in September. However, Archer finished the season with a very good 3.22 ERA in 128.2 innings. Not only did he post a solid ERA, but Archer posted a good 7.1 K/9 and a career low 2.7 BB/9.

After struggling with command throughout his minor-league career, Archer’s 2.7 BB/9 is a very encouraging sign for the future. He had never posted a BB/9 lower than 3.8 in any minor league season, so seeing him make huge strides in his command is something the Rays are very excited about. It has always been known that Archer has the stuff to be a big league pitcher, but his lack of command, especially of his slider, has always made him have doubters. Archer must sustain this solid command in order to remain as effective as he did in 2013. If he can continue to replicate this command, he can be a very good number two starter for the Rays.

Throughout the season, Archer continued to rely on his fastball-slider combination, throwing 59.8% fastballs, 33.o% sliders, and 7.2% changeups according to Fangraphs. Because of his past lack of a good third pitch, many have projected Archer to move to the bullpen in the future. While Archer’s changeup has always been well behind his other two pitches, it showed promise that it could be a passable major league pitch in 2013. While he will always rely heavily on his plus fastball and plus slider, his development of a third pitch bodes well for his future as a starter. If Archer can continue to work on his changeup, it will provide a nice change of pace from his hard fastball and slider and give pitchers an even tougher time against him.

Thanks to a strong performance in 2013, Archer has ensured he will be a part of the Rays’ rotation for next season and beyond. In 2014, Archer will look to replicate his 2013 success and continue making strides in his development as a pitcher. With the David Price trade rumors swirling more than ever, Archer will be asked to take on a bigger load in 2014. Archer will likely slot into the number three spot in the rotation behind Alex Cobb and Matt Moore if Price is indeed traded. However, Archer is a pitcher that many teams would love to have in the number three spot. If he can continue to build on his improvements with command and his changeup, Archer will be an exciting part of the Rays’ pitching staff for years to come.