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Tampa Bay Rays: Transition To Ace Continues for Chris Archer

By Robbie Knopf

The Tampa Bay Rays have lost their first two games against the Minnesota Twins, and they will send Chris Archer to the mound as they hope to salvage a game and build some momentum. This is one of those cliche situations where many broadcasters would say “This is a time where you need your ace to come through with a big outing.” Of course, the Rays want Archer to do well every time, but the cliche isn’t false–a strong outing now to lead to a win would be especially satisfying. In addition, that is what aces do.

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We know that Chris Archer is an excellent pitcher, and to begin the year, he has taken another step forward. He is 3-4 with a 2.59 ERA, striking out 58 while walking just 15 in 48.2 innings. He litters the AL leaderboards, ranking in the top 10 in relatively basic statistics like ERA, WHIP, H/9, K/9, strikeouts, and games started along with slightly more complicated ones like ERA+ and FIP. But you don’t need these numbers to know that Chris Archer has looked electric to start the season. If you watched four or five of his starts, it would be quite clear as well.

The issue for Archer, though, is that “excellent pitcher” and “ace” aren’t necessarily synonyms. Archer has the stuff and the results of an ace, but he is also more inconsistent, suffering from bouts of wildness more often than David Price or James Shields did from their second years onward. Archer is only in his third full season–he still has time to keep developing–but the Rays need him to be dependable now given all of their injuries. Archer’s numbers at the end of the season should be great, but there is too high of a chance that his performances will continue to fluctuate.

Archer’s ability to deliver from start to start for the Rays is also critical given the secondary skills he lacks. Chris Archer isn’t about to teach anybody a pitch as he continues his struggles to make his changeup a bigger part of his arsenal. He is emotional on the mound, and while that can help him lead, he may not be the guy to tell a fellow starter that everything will fine after a couple of bad starts. Archer doesn’t have that ace demeanor, and while that has nothing to do with his performance , it simply makes things a little bit more difficult for the Rays.

The good news, though, is that none of this will matter if Archer is a Cy Young candidate this season. Jim Hickey and Alex Cobb can help with mentoring pitchers and the occasional bad outing will be irrelevant if he is among the best pitchers in baseball on the whole. Archer isn’t a prototypical ace, but if you couldn’t win without prototypical players across the board, the Tampa Bay Rays never would have achieved this much success. If Archer takes the ball every fifth day and excels most of the time, everything else will work itself out.

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