Over the past three seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer has proved himself to have one of the best fastball-slider combinations in baseball. While his command isn’t always perfect, it stands out in every single one of Archer’s starts that he is able to touch the upper-90’s with his fastball and show a slider that may even be better. Few pitchers have Archer’s ability to dominate whether he is using his breaking ball as a chase pitch or to get called strikes.
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Of course, that brings us to Archer’s changeup. A quick glance at his Baseball America page reveals that we’ve talking about him not throwing his changeup enough since 2009. In his start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, though, Chris Archer threw 37 pitches and about 10 of them were changeups as he worked on the offering. In his 59 major league starts, Archer has averaged about 95 pitchers per outing. According to Brooks Baseball, he has thrown 10 changeups in just 13 of those starts.
Does that number sound a little high? Don’t worry–it did to me too. As it turns out, though, seven of the 13 came in Archer’s first nine starts of 2013. How did Archer do in those games? He actually had a 2.96 ERA, but that is a misleading number because it took 15 shutout innings in his last two starts for it to get that low. Before that, Archer had a 4.17 ERA but just a 30-21 strikeout to walk ratio and a 1.2 HR/9 in 36.2 innings pitched.
At the very least, Chris Archer can say that he gave his changeup a chance. He tried showing confidence in his changeup for nine starts, and his results were mediocre. Since then–even if we leave out those 15 scoreless frames–he has a 3.35 ERA, a 7.8 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 271.2 big league innings. Shouldn’t those results speak for themselves? Could Archer be better off just sticking to his fastball and slider?
However, while 3.35 is a nice ERA, the Rays know that Archer is capable of being even better than that. Even though the team can’t truly complain if Archer ends up as a number two or three starter rather than an ace, they know that the extra gear is still in him and that his changeup is the key to him getting there.
Here’s a fun statistic: in the four games that Chris Archer has thrown at least 10 changeups since those nine starts to begin 2013, he has a 2.45 ERA, an 8.8 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 25.2 innings pitched. Yes, small sizes apply, but those do happen to be markedly better than his overall numbers. Now let’s see how he does once we expand the sample.
For his career, Archer has thrown his changeup 6.13% of the time. We have 12 games since that nine-start stretch where he has thrown even 7.5% changeups, and in those starts, he has a 2.51 ERA, an 8.0 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 75.1 innings pitched. Of course, there is a certain amount of selection bias at play here–Archer would presumably only use his changeup that much if he felt good about it that day. At the same time, why should it be so difficult for Archer to throw just 7.5% changeups?
Maybe in the long-run, it will not be worthwhile for Chris Archer to throw his changeup more than sparingly. Maybe he will start using it again and even trust it in big spots only to see himself falter like he did at the beginning of 2013. However, how will he know until he gives the pitch another chance? How will he know until he begins to throw the offering more than a couple of times a game even when he doesn’t have the greatest feel for it that night?
There is no guarantee that throwing more changeups would take Archer to the next level as a pitcher, but the possibility is there and that should be sufficient. There is no reason why the wait for his changeup should continue any longer.