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Chris Archer was a 6th round draft selection of the Indians in 2006. No one really cares about that now, they just care about how productive he was a rookie for the Rays in 2013 (perhaps you should take into account that in 2011 and 2013 he entered the year as a top-40 prospect according to Baseball America signalling that he has long been considered a strong prospect capable of substantial big league success). Archer started 23 games for the Rays going 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and held batters to a .226 batting average over 128.2 innings. Excellent work like that, he tossed 29.1 innings in 2012 (4.60 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .215 BAA), has Archer racing up drafts boards early in 2014. Should he be someone that you consider to help lead your staff in the coming season, or is he better served being one of the depth arms on your team in mixed leagues?
Consistency is not usually something we find in rookies, but in the case of Archer we actually find ample evidence of it. After a rough first start (5 ER in 4 IP), Archer ran off a stretch of 10 starts without allowing more than three earned runs. Moreover, in his 23 season long stars he allowed more than three earned runs on just four occasions, and never more than five earned runs in any outing. There are a few short outings in the mix where he failed to go deep into games, but the vast majority of the time that he took the hill last year he kept the Rays in games. That’s very heartening. However, let’s touch on his ability to work deep into games before moving on. Here is a breakdown of the innings he lasted in his 23 starts.
Less than 5 IP: eight
5-6 IP: seven
7 IP: six
8-9 IP: two
Fully one third of his starts he failed to pitch long enough to be eligible for a win. Again, he wasn’t getting blown up, but that’s still a pretty high number that puts his ability to win ballgames in question.
What about the skills? Archer had a 7.06 K/9 mark in 2013. That’s slightly below the league average but a passable number for a starter. However, it was a rather disappointing total for a youngster who over 191 innings at Triple-A had punched out more than a batter per inning (203). At least he did a solid job of avoiding beating himself as Archer only walked 2.66 batters per nine innings. Can he maintain that pace? Over 29.1 innings with the Rays in 2012 he walked 3.99 per nine, and for his minor league career walks were a constant source of stress as he permitted five walks per nine inning over his 165 outings. That’s not a small sample size either sowe shouldn’t just discount it. He did cut the rate down to 4.3 per nine in 37 starts at Triple-A but that mark, combined with what he did in his cup of coffee in ’12, leads me to believe that the 2.66 rate he threw up there last season may not be sustainable even though I have to note that he walked two or fewer batters in each of his last 11 starts. We need more data but the walks could go either way and they will be a huge key to how he performs in 2014.
While we’re talking strikeouts and walks, let’s talk about his repertoire. He throws a live 95 mph fastball 60 percent of the time which is fine. He also leans heavily on a sharp, 85 mph slider 33 percent of the time. That’s right math whizzes, he throws his top two offerings 93 percent of his time. Starting pitchers can get by with two pitches, but it would serve Archer well to work more extensively on the changeup that he threw only seven percent of the time in 2013. There’s nice separation between the heater and change – 95 mph to 84 – but he needs to learn to trust his third pitch more.
What kind of batted balls does Archer generate? He had a 1.38 GB/FB ratio in 2013 and that’s certainly a solid number without being impressive. Here’s how the line drive, ground ball and fly ball ratios broke down: 19/47/34. The big league average last year was 21/45/35. Obviously he was pretty much dead on league average. Chris was slightly above the league average with an 11.7 HR/F ratio, about two percent up, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary in the least. As a result of that 11.7 HR/F ratio his HR/9 mark was 1.05. Again, spot on the league average. One area that he wasn’t spot on was his left on base percentage of 78.8 percent. The big league average is usually about 70 percent and when a number gets this high there is a strong possibility of a correction in the following season. You can see how this number played a part in keeping his ERA down at 3.22 when his xFIP (3.91) and SIERA (4.15) marks were substantially higher.
Archer owns a golden right arm. He was also pretty consistent last season and that’s heartening to see with a youngster. At the same time he didn’t punch out as many batters as one would have thought he would, and his basically two pitch arsenal would really be more impressive if he started dropping in his changeup more. It will also be interesting to see if he will be able to curtail the free pass like he did last season because prior to his work with the Rays in ’13 he had never been able to do that. The hype isn’t out of control with Archer so chances are you won’t have to reach for his services in 2014 which is a good thing. Given the totality of his work last season I’d suggest Archer as a 4th starter type in mixed leagues. If you can get him even cheaper than that, more power to you.
By Ray Flowers