You would be hard-pressed to find a pitcher, who was hurt more by the homer-surge around the league, than Chris Archer. Archer’s home runs surged from 0.81 HR/9 in 2015 up to 1.31 HR/9 in 2016. The result was damaging to his ERA as it jumped from 3.23 up to 4.02 and his fantasy value as Archer finished as the 40th overall starting pitcher last year, compared to 2015 when he was inside the top 15 starters.
So what can we expect from Archer this year? Is he more 2015 with last year merely serving as a aberration, or will his upside be capped in the tidal waves of homers going forward?
Looking at his batted ball profile, Archer actually kept the ball on the ground slightly more last year, coming in at 47.8%. His HR/FB%, much like his HR/9, was a clear outlier at 16.2% above last year’s league average of 12.8%. Notably though, last year’s league average was the highest rate since the stat has been kept. In context, in makes the 16.2% look bad, but not egregious.
The peripherals indicate that Archer probably deserved better – his FIP was 3.81 and xFIP was 3.41. Of course, xFIP would normalize his HR/9 back to a rate of 1.00 HR/9 so that might be a good jumping off point if you believe the homer increase was a one year aberration. As far as skills go, the strikeouts were there with over 10 per 9 innings and the walks were not an issue at 3.00 per 9 innings.
However, the first half walk rate was nearly 4 per 9, while his second half walk rate was a minuscule 1.87 and came without much sacrifice in the strikeout rate. Archer was also able to reduce HR/9 rate from 1.47 in the first half down to 1.18 in the second half. Archer accomplished this by limiting the amount of hard contact that he was exposed to – down nearly 4% from the first half to the second half.
Digging a little deeper into the home run issue, it appears that Archer’s plate discipline data might hold the key to what happened. Archer’s first strike percentage was down a fairly significant amount – 5.5% – and his zone percentage was also down – 4%. I theorize that Archer was falling behind hitters, putting himself in bad spots and that, combined with whatever caused the league-wide homer surge, contributed to a huge increase in his homers allowed. Now, what is unclear is whether Archer’s second half resurgence (3.25 ERA) was keyed by improved command, leading to better pitchers’ counts.
Later, in the year, he did throw for a greater percentage of strikes, but he also began to throw his slider more – up about 5% – while shelving his change-up usage some – down about 5%. Archer’s slider is considered among the game’s better pitches so while it may not be good long-term for health – there are theories that throwing an abundance of sliders can cause arm troubles, it is good news in the short-term that Archer has rediscovered and embraced a pitch mix that led to his 2015 success.
Now, even with the changes in pitch mix and results, Archer still had a 1.18 HR/9 rate in the second half. I would not project him for much below that mark. He also posted .265 BABIP, which I think is a little high. I would not regress him back to average given Tampa’s current defensive situation, which I find to be favorable.
Although I like Archer, as per the projection below, I think the 14th SP is a steep price to pay for an arm, who in his best season finished as the 15th overall SP. Even with some turnover, the division is very unforgiving – as evidenced by his road splits. I think that plus the league-wide homer surge will cap Archer’s upside a bit. I have Archer as the 24th overall starting pitcher.
My Projection for Chris Archer: 195 IP, 3.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 210 Ks