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…