Chris Archer’s rookie season has mostly gone really well. Expectations were high among Rays fans, but what did less emotional systems think of the young pitcher? Here’s a look at his consolidated projections and reality:
It’s fair to say that he has not only outperformed expectations, but drastically so. He has walked less, struck out more, and allowed fewer hits per inning that once thought. The ERA is much shinier, though the FIP, while strong, is much closer to what was thought probable. This is mostly due to his HR rate of 1.06 compared to the projected .87 per game. It looks like he’s going to come right in line with that innings projection by the time the season runs out, but know that he threw another 50 on the nose for AAA Durham.
Upon watching Archer one is immediately struck by his athletic frame that covers quiet mechanics and a smooth delivery. This wasn’t always the case, but he has refined his approach to the point that he can repeatedly bring the thunder using a compact approach. For the uninitiated Archer works predominantly fastball/slider with a practically non-existent show me change up. In 2013 he’s throwing the slidepiece around a third of the time with the change around 8%. This leaves roughly 60% for the main attraction, an electric mid-90s fastball that touches higher when necessary. When his two elite pitchers are humming along there is little need for a third and he’s had more good days than bad this year, because of his knockout combo.
The attributed described in the previous paragraph could be applied to another man. This other man might have a similar babyface, but he’s no longer the spring chicken he once was. This mystery man features a similar repertoire leaning heavily on a very good slider and keeping batters honest with a dynamite fastball. When his stuff is on it’s fire and that’s been true quite often this year, though less so in not that long ago. This gentleman utilizes a similar quick and compact delivery that can come unhinged at times, but when he’s repeating his arm slot he’s able to show good enough control and the command is less important with how good the stuff can be. When he came in the league in 2005 a then young Ervin Santana was throwing his 93 and up fastball around 60% of the time and the slider over 20% of his pitches, switching out the occasional curveball in the place of the slider from time to time.
Watching each man pitch is a study akin with watching a farmhand break a wild stallion. Getting as much arm-side run and glove side bite on their two primary pitches can be difficult to reign in, but when these guys have a feel for their two-pitch arsenal they have the ability to make grown men weak in the knees. Here’s a look at what each did in their first major exposure to big league batters and bear in mind that both received 50ish innings in the minor prior to promotion:
Santana made a few more starts, though Archer’s season isn’t yet complete, and this allowed for around another 140 batters. Santana gave up a higher average, but we can see that it’s mostly due to a basically league average BABIP while Archer has benefited from a very good defense behind him to go with a good measure of luck even if you think he has hit-suppressing stuff. The strikeout numbers are essentially the same and Archer has shown the slightly better walk rate. Santana was more of a flyball guy which makes the BABIP differences stand out even more as you’d expect a higher BABIP the more grounders you get. Despite all the flyballs Santana showed better results on keeping them in the park per fly.
Here’s the various run estimators. When we divert from the more common ERA and look at things that focus more on components we see that these guys are pretty similar. Santana’s xFIP calls attention to the fact that he allowed a below-average amount of flyballs to leave the yard which is something he would struggle with over his career posting high homer rates including leading the league in ding dongs a year ago with 39 big flies. If you average the two types of WAR you see both guys averaging around a win and a half, though there is a discrepancy when looking at the run values per 100 pitches for their main offerings.
We see some more similarities when viewing the opposition’s plate discipline statistics. Archer is better at getting swings out of the zone and that’s a reflection of just how good his slider is. When in the zone they induced roughly the same likelihood of a swing while batters put wood to rawhide at an equal rate. Santana throws more strikes, especially first pitch, and they were close in swing strike rate. These guys aren’t exactly a like, but there’s a lot of parallels here so Santana could offer a glimpse into the future of what Chris Archer could be like.
Over his career Santana has been worth around 2.5 WAR per 200 innings. This is an above-average player, but not by an appreciable amount. That’s a pretty high ceiling if we think that Archer profiles as a better version of Santana. In years where he was able to maintain a better than usual BABIP Santana becomes a borderline ace. Big Erv was able to build on his strikeout rate in the years since his debut while also trimming his walk rate even a little more. If Archer can see a similar uptick in strikeouts while shaving some walks you’ll really see him take his game to another level because batters already are having so much trouble squaring up his good stuff. Those that contend that it would be very unlikely to see him have success without developing the change have a role model to look upon that has carved out a solid career having this same repertoire and Archer’s is probably even better. Having a guy make league minimum the next couple years while giving the team 2-4 wins is exactly the type of player the Rays need in their quest to invent the perpetual window machine. Good luck to the young man going forward as he attempts to make good on all that promise.