Archer Hits the Bullseye (and other notes from 6/2/15)

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Chris Archer of the Rays flashed nice potential since becoming a mainstay in the rotation in 2013, but he has really taken things to a whole new level this season and this Archer keeps on hitting that bullseye each time he toes the rubber every fifth day.  His latest gem was a 15 strikeout performance on the road at Angel Stadium on Tuesday evening to bring his record to 6-4 with a 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 92 K/20 BB in 76 IP.

I have been expecting some regression to happen for Archer, but it just isn’t happening and he is looking stronger with each successive start.  A little regression should still be on its way, but Archer is pitching like a true ace and it’s time to examine what has changed from the previous seasons to spark this transformation.

First, we will look at his control.  In 8 seasons of Minor League work, Archer posted a hideous walk rate of 5.00 BB/9, so the natural thought was that this was going to be a large obstacle for him to overcome once he reached the Majors.  Archer got a taste of the Majors at the end of 2012 and then became a mainstay in the Rays rotation in the middle of the 2013 season.  Since he broke into the Majors from 2012 through 2014, his walk rate was not spectacular but it was respectable at 3.13 BB/9, which was a large improvement from his Minor League performance.  This season he has taken his control to a whole new level with at a very good mark of 2.37 BB/9, which can be largely attributed to his new found ability to throw first pitch strikes.  In 2013, Archer threw first pitch strikes 58.1% of the time, and it was very similar in 2014 at 57.5%.  Now this season, he has bumped that all the way up to 64.0% to back up his solid walk rate.

The next thing that has changed for Archer appears in his pitch data.  According to PITCHf/x, the past two seasons he has utilized both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, but this year he has nearly ditched the two-seamer and is pitching the four-seamer 48.6% of the time.  Also, he is using his slider nearly 10% more than last season at a 37.7% clip so far, and that slider pitch is also 1.5 MPH greater in velocity than last year.  It would also appear that this year Archer’s release point on all of his pitches has been a bit higher.  And with the slider in particular, his release point has been higher and it has also shifted to the right a little (from the catcher’s point a view) so it resembles the release point of his fastball more, which is probably making it very difficult for hitters to pick up what the pitch is when it is coming out of his hand.  Combine this with the greater velocity and the higher usage of the pitch, and it is no surprise that he is generating swinging strikes on the slider 21.9% of the time (compared to 17.3% last year).

One last thing just for kicks, Archer has also been able to induce more ground balls on all his pitches this season.  Overall, his ground ball rate is at 50.3% as opposed to 46.5% last year.  Great control, lots of swinging strikes, and inducing ground balls in bunches — sounds like a recipe for success to me.  You have to expect his ERA to rise some, but it is becoming more and more apparent that Archer’s improvements surely have validity to them and he should go on to finish the 2015 season pitching at a high level.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s MLB slate…

Jordan Zimmermann – 8 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the W.  Zimmermann had a couple of rocky outings to begin the season, but since the beginning of May he is 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 6 starts.  His fastball velocity has been down 1.2 MPH this season though, so it’s no surprise that his strikeout rate is a measly 5.90 K/9.  He can still provide value in ERA and WHIP despite the loss in velocity as he has shown up to this point (2.88 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), but as I have said before, with the diminished velocity causing the low strikeouts he really isn’t much more than a glorified Doug Fister.  So it’s up to Zimmermann’s owners to keep an eye on that velocity to see if he makes any improvements there.

Kevin Pillar – 3 for 4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 K.  Pillar can now officially say he owns Max Scherzer as he hit 2 bombs off him on Tuesday.  Small sample size for sure, but hey for the moment he owns him.  Pillar has been a great addition to the Blue Jays this season in terms of his defense, but he’s also been a bit of a spark plug on offense with a .234 AVG, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 31 R, and 7 SB.  The AVG isn’t all that very helpful, but he was a .300 hitter in the Minors and could see his luck swing there.  However, it is his 10 HR/25 SB capability that should be attractive to fantasy owners.

Joc Pederson – 3 for 7, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K.  Joc hit a 477 foot bomb in game 1 of a doubleheader at Coors Field, and then he smashed another HR in game 2.  I can’t say enough about Yung Joc.  He’s now hitting .260 with 16 HR, 31 RBI, 31 R, and 2 SB.

Alex Guerrero – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R.  Guerrero came on in game 2 of the doubleheader as a pinch hitter and hit a game winning grand slam.  His AVG is down to .296 after sitting above .300 for most of the year, but it was bound to come down as his BABIP began to normalize.  But the power of his is still present as he now has 10 HR in 100 AB this season.  I’ve talked about what his role could be with the Dodgers going forward, and he is going to make things really hard on the Dodgers to leave him out of the lineup more often than not.

Zack Greinke – 6 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.  In “Getting Cranky With Greinke” a couple weeks ago, I detailed Greinke as a sell candidate.  He posted a couple more good starts afterward, but his start on Tuesday was his first clunker of the season and the first time in 11 starts this season that he did not record a quality start.  Maybe it was the Coors Field effect on him in this one, but not much has changed from what I said about him two weeks ago.  I’m not saying he’s a terrible pitcher, but he should not be viewed as a true fantasy ace and I feel that he should be someone that is shopped around if you own him while his numbers still resemble that of a true ace.  He’s 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.

Ben Paulsen – 3 for 7, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Paulsen had a nice day at the dish in a doubleheader as he launched his 4th HR.  I mentioned him as a nice plug and play at first base as a Rockies hitter and he will still remain one for as long as Justin Morneau remains out, and could push the Rockies to trading Morneau when he finally is healthy.

Nick Hundley – 3 for 4, 2 RBI, 3 R.  I keep mentioning Hundley as a top 10 catcher candidate being a Rockies hitter and he keeps on producing when playing at home with a .343 AVG, 4 HR, 15 RBI, and 13 R in 67 AB.  I imagine that he will be able to keep up a steady pace and makes for a great play at Coors.

Johnny Cueto – 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K.  Cueto got his last start skipped with stiffness in his elbow, but he was able to make it through 6 innings against the Phillies on Tuesday.  The injury does not appear to be a major concern to the Reds, but as a fantasy player I would be a bit concerned if I owned him considering that his fastball velocity is down a tick from last year and at an all-time low.  Proceed with caution.

Chase Utley – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Don’t look now, but Utley is on a 5 for 11 flurry to bring his AVG above the Mendoza line for the first time this season!  It only took him nearly two months, but better late than never (yeah, I’m looking at you, Chris Carter).

Ben Zobrist – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Zobrist returned from the DL last week and was slotted right back into that 3-spot in the A’s lineup.  On Tuesday he hit a grand slam and while he’s not a flashy player and is in a decline phase of his career, he still does find himself in a good run scoring and run producing spot for as long as he remains with the A’s.  However, he is an ideal trade candidate since he is in the final year of his contract on a last place team, so he may not find himself in as fortunate of a spot come July.

Drew Pomeranz – Pomeranz has been on the DL but he is going to be shifted to the bullpen when he comes back.  I had suggested him to be “This Year’s Alex Wood” after my number one choice Marcus Stroman suffered a season-ending injury, but I was never that confident in him given his two-pitch repertoire.  With that fastball/curveball combo that he has, he really is much more suited for a bullpen role.

Clay Buchholz – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K with the W.  With some bad luck, Buchholz’ ERA was above 4.00 all season long and topped out at 7.84.  But with 8 shutout innings on Tuesday, his ERA is now at 3.82 to go with a 1.21 WHIP.  With the way that he has been pitching so far with a 9.22 K/9 and 2.32 BB/9, his ERA and WHIP numbers are finally settling around areas where they were most likely to be.  After continuous seasons of striking out more than a batter per inning in the Minors, he has never been able to replicate that success at the Major League level.  But this season with the development of his two-seam fastball, he has been inducing much more swinging strikes to get those whiffs.  Believe in the numbers he has shown so far.

Shin-Soo Choo – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R.  With a big fly on Tuesday, Choo now has 8 HR on the year to go with his .246 AVG.  While it is nice to see any sort of production from Choo after he completely bombed last season in his first year of a 7-year contract with the Rangers, he still has not even attempted a stolen base all season long.  After being a 20 SB type of player for several years, he was only 3 for 7 in attempts last year due to an ankle injury that he suffered early in the season.  Maybe that ankle injury still has him limited in ways, maybe not.  But if he’s not running or hitting for a decent AVG, then his fantasy value is severely limited.

Joey Gallo – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  I had just posted about Gallo and his call up in “Is the Pico de Gallo in Texas Hot or Mild?”  I said that I didn’t expect a whole lot out of him upon his promotion and then he goes and makes me look like a fool as he fell a triple short of the cycle.  Though in my defense, he was generously given a 2-run single by the hometown scorekeeper on a ground ball that he hit right at Adam LaRoche that undoubtedly should have gone for an error in my mind.  Nevertheless, the HR and double that he hit were surely legitimate to give the Arlington crowd a lot to cheer about.  I did also say though that he should surely be picked up if your team has the space and to take a wait and see approach.  He’ll have all eyes of the fantasy baseball community on him over the next few weeks.

Carlos Corporan – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Corporan came on after Robinson Chirinos left the game with an injury and ended up having one of the best games of his career.  Corporan has been serving as the Rangers backup catcher to Chirinos, though neither of them have been impressive this season.  This isn’t really a catching situation to get too involved with for fantasy purposes.

Jeff Samardzija – 5 IP, 12 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the L.  Yikes, what a doozy for Samardzija to further show why I didn’t like him this season.  I told the story three weeks ago in “The Bigger They Are, Samardzija They Fall.”  He’s now 4-3 with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.

Mike Wright – 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the L.  After two scoreless starts to begin his Major League career, the wheels might be falling off for Wright of the Orioles, but let’s see how he does this weekend.  His numbers still look nice with a 2.96 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, but he’s due for some regression in BABIP and strand rate, and the 5.92 K/9 is uninspiring.

Evan Gattis – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 2 K.  Gattis continued his hot streak with his 12th HR and to bring him up to 36 RBI.  There’s not many hitters hotter than Gattis right now.

Luis Valbuena – 1 for 2, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB.  Valbuena now is hitting .199 with 12 HR on the season.  Yep, this is Astros baseball.

Lance Lynn – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W.  Lynn is on his way to his best season from both a standard statistic standpoint as well as a metric statistic standpoint and he is doing so despite a slight downward tick in his velocity. I’ve never been a big fan of Lynn, but he is showing me something this season.  We’ll see if it can continue.  He is 4-4 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 72 K/22 BB in 68.1 IP.

Tyler Cravy – 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K with the L.  25-year old Tyler Cravy made his Major League debut for the Brewers on Tuesday, and had a pretty nice showing.  However, he does not project to be more than a back end rotation guy or a bullpen arm, but he should get an additional look with Wily Peralta out for a while.

Carlos Carrasco – 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K.  Carrasco’s ERA hadn’t been under 4.00 since April 26, but he has finally gotten it back to a respectable mark of 3.92 after posting 3 quality starts in a row.  It was only a matter of time before he got back on track and also received some better luck, and I said a couple weeks ago that his big breakout start of the season would come this weekend versus the Orioles.  So let’s do it Car-Car.

Shelby Miller – 4.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 2 K.  This easily qualifies as Miller’s worst start of the season, and it comes as no surprise as he was surely due for one like this.  But as I’ve said before, he will see a decent amount of regression but I believe he should avoid complete implosion.

Ender Inciarte – 1 for 3, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 SB, 2 BB.  Inciarte has tailed off a little, but is still producing fairly well and he has some speed if you need it as he now has 8 SB on the season.

A.J. Pollock – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Pollock keeps on filling up stat sheets in a variety of ways on his way to that breakout season that I forecast for him.  He’s now hitting .314 with 6 HR, 22 RBI, 35 R, and 13 SB in 50 games.  Check out “Pollock Painting a New Picture in Arizona” for more detailed information on Pollock.

Paul Goldschmidt – 1 for 1, 1 RBI, 4 BB.  That’s another 4 walks for Goldschmidt.  Just saying.  I’d be afraid of pitching to him too.

Albert Pujols – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  What’s gotten into Albert?  6 HR in the last 6 games now.

Noah Syndergaard – 4 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 0 BB, 10 K with the L.  Syndergaard did his best Andrew Cashner impression from the previous day where Cashner went 4.2 IP allowing 11 H and 5 ER while striking out 11 and not walking a batter.  Very eerily similar and odd looking pitching lines from two guys in back to back games of the same series.  Still liking Thor’s outlook, especially with all the K’s from Tuesday.

Cory Spangenberg – 3 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 BB.  Spangenberg has been pretty quiet for a while now since his 2 HR game, but he finally did something of significance on Tuesday.  Deep leaguers still will want to monitor him as a 2B/3B option for steals.

Ian Kennedy – 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K with the W.  Kennedy still has a long ways to go, but this was a nice step in the right direction.  However, I am not going to put too much stock into it with Kennedy’s fastball velocity down over 1 MPH from last year.  It was working at a more elevated velocity with his fastball last year that allowed him to post a career high strikeout rate.  Without that same velocity, he’s much more mediocre.

Brandon Crawford – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Brandon is “Built Crawford Tough” and he bombed yet another one on Tuesday.  Follow the link to read more about Crawford and his new found power.

Andrew McCutchen – 4 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 R.  Can you believe that McCutchen now has his AVG up to .292?  He’s nearly right on pace to post numbers like he has the last couple of seasons, besides in the SB category.  It’s been an incredible turnaround after a horrible April for the Pirate All-Star.

Starling Marte – 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K.  It seems as if Pirates hitters are taking turns falling into slumps.  First it was Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison simultaneously, then it was Gregory Polanco right after the first two guys busted out of their slumps.  Now it is Marte’s turn as he has seen his AVG drop over 40 points over the last 15 games.  With a good amount of line drives and using his speed to leg out infield hits, Marte profiles as a guy who can maintain high BABIP marks, but his BABIP is now below .300 on the season.  This can be attributed to a big increase in pull % and in soft hit %.  He should be able to turn it around, but at the very least he could be looking at some extra days off as he works through the slump.

Austin Jackson – 4 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 BB.  Big day on offense for the Mariners center fielder, but I’m not sure that he will ever live up to expectations.  A comparable underachieving, toolsy outfielder that I like more than A-Jax for the reaminder of the season is Cameron Maybin of the Braves.

Mike Montgomery – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.  Montgomery was a 1st round pick in 2008 by the Royals and has bounced around to the Rays organization and now to the Mariners before finally making his Major League debut on Tuesday.  For how long he has had to wait for this opportunity, the soon to be 26-year old Montgomery showed great poise and posted a quality start.  He hasn’t shown much success at the Minor League level, so we can’t expect too much out of him at the moment.  It’s possible that he has earned another start and that could come versus his old organization, the Rays, this weekend.

Fernando Rodney – 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K with the BS.  I’ve been calling for Rodney’s disposal from the closer’s role for a couple weeks now and highlighted it best in “BLOW-PEN REPORT:  Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow.”  And then on May 27 after he blew a game the previous day, I said: “…if he has two more bad outings in his next 4 appearances or less then he is getting the boot.”  Well, his bad outing on Tuesday marks 1 bad outing in 2 appearances since then.  We’re getting close to Carson Smith time in Seattle.  You could have walked slowly over to the waiver wire to pick up Smith when I said to a while ago, but by now you are going to have to run very quickly to get him.

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3 thoughts on “Archer Hits the Bullseye (and other notes from 6/2/15)

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