Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer tied for the most losses in baseball in 2016, with a 9-19 won-lost record, even though his 4.02 ERA (101 ERA+), 3.81 FIP, and a 1.242 WHIP made him just about a league-average pitcher. Of course, being average meant it was a disappointing season for Archer, who has ace potential. Now entering his fifth major-league season at the age of 28, the right-hander put up good, though not excellent, numbers for several years (ERA+ of 120, 112, and 121 in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively), and his stats in 2015 (2.90 FIP, 1.137 WHIP) suggested he might be ready to break through to the next level. Archer did pitch much better in the second half of 2016 (4.66 ERA, 1.436 WHIP before the All-Star break; 3.25 ERA, 1.007 afterward), and has no apparent health issues, so there is continued optimism for his 2017 season.
What he throws. Archer has a fairly simple repertoire for a starting pitcher, only using three pitch types in 2016: four-seam fastball (“FF”), slider (“SL”), and changeup (“CH”). (He used to throw a two-seam fastball/sinker that had good separation from his four-seamer, but abandoned the pitch after 2014.) His fastball, which has good vertical movement but not much horizontal movement, averaged 94.9 mph, with a high of 98.6 mph, putting him in the upper third of pitchers for velocity. His slider is also exceptionally fast, averaging 88.8 mph, and has good movement for such a fast pitch:
Pitch usage and trends. About half of Archer’s pitches (48.3%) were fastballs and 40.3% were sliders, with his changeup being used relatively rarely. His changeup was thrown mostly to left-handed batters (17.9% of pitches) and when ahead in the count; righties only saw 5.3% changeups, with sliders (45.1%) making up most of the difference:
Although Archer’s repertoire didn’t change over the course of the season, his velocity did marginally increase, especially that of his slider: His average fastball velocity increased about a half mph from before the All-Star break (94.7 mph) to 95.2 mph afterward, and his slider increased nearly a full mph from 88.4 to 89.3 mph:
Pitch value. In 2014 and 2015, Archer’s fastball was significantly better than league average (based on total based yielded per 100 pitches), but in 2016 it was only slightly better than average, as was his slider. His changeup showed very marked platoon splits, being quite effective against left-handed batters (who saw relatively more changeups) while being terrible against righties (who saw very few changeups):
Comparing Archer’s pitch values in the first and second half of the season shows improvements in all his pitches, but only moderately so. His fastballs and sliders became slightly better by total bases per 100 pitches, and his changeups to righties improved significantly (though since they were rare pitches that would not make much difference to Archer’s overall line). Equally importantly, his rate of balls per 100 pitches also improved across the board. His walk rate was cut in half after the All-Star break, from 3.9 BB/9 before the break to 1.9 after:
Pitch location. Archer mainly targets the top of the strike zone, or just above it, with his fastball, although the pitch covers most of the zone. His slider and change both aim at the bottom of the zone. The slider typically ends up within the strike zone, though a significant number drop below or outside the zone to right-handed batters: