It’s easy to be impressed by Chris Archer. He throws one of the fastest, hardest to square up fastballs in baseball. His slider is an unhittable offering that can only be avoided, not conquered. If he had a third pitch he might not ever allow a man to touch first base for the rest of his life. It’s something he has worked on throughout his career without really developing the pitch much beyond a show-me offering. It may only need be a distraction to be effective, but if he wants to use it as anything other than a surprise pitch then he needs to be able to throw it more often. After throwing a higher percentage of change ups in a game since June of 2013 it’s time to take a look at Chris Archer’s cambio to gauge how it’s developing.
On his way to striking out 12 batters yesterday Archer threw 14 change ups that yielded a total of 2 balls. He induced a pop up, three grounders, a fly ball, and a line drive on eight swings with the other two going for a whiff and a foul. None of these fell for a hit. He got good results from the pitch so can this serve as a turning point or will it prove to be a high water mark that will occasionally be met, but rarely bested? Let’s trace the evolution of this pitch a few different ways to get an idea of whether he’s improving or if the pitch continues to stagnate. I want to start with every single change up that he has thrown in his career and I’ll be using the indispensable Baseball Savant to do so.
We’re using a rolling 50-pitch moving average here and he has thrown around 75 of these suckers this year so the last 25 points on the line will be solely from this year. You can see that his run values have really improved over the last 50 or so change ups that he has thrown. He’s getting the best results that he has ever achieved with the pitch with his most recent usage and it’s coming by way of the convergence between more pitches in the zone and fewer swings from batters. We’re off to a really good start as the pitch looks to be improving. Let’s take the balls and called strikes out of the equation and just look at swings:
When looking at 20-pitch rolling averages for swings we see that he has shown a very nice decline in runs against the pitch, though he has shown this path before with a couple of different periods showing a lower nadir before creeping back up to being a bad pitch. It’s encouraging to see the recent success, and it will be doubly so if he can maintain that success for more than just a fleeting moment as batters most likely adjust to the pitch. Again, we see just how heavily he’s attacking the zone, but that’s starting to lead to more contact and fewer whiffs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because we have no idea if he’s inducing weak contact or if these balls in play are being shellacked. So let’s throw out the fouls and whiffs and look at just his balls in play:
The samples start to get smaller here, but we’re still going to look at this on a 20-ball in play average. We see that he had one period some time ago where everything was coming up Milhouse. He’s on his way back to that point as batters are getting a hit at a lower rate than he has ever seen, and that’s being paired with descending slugging percentages, as well. He’s seeing improvement across the spectrum here compared to early in his career when the pitch might not have gone for a hit a whole lot more often, but it sure was being driven for power. I don’t think Archie minds giving up the occasional single to a batter on his third offering, but it must be demoralizing to see that pitch end up over the wall when he’s been carving guys up all day with his main arsenal.
We see that he’s having more success by throwing the pitch in the zone more often forcing batters to either swing at a pitch they’re probably not sitting on or taking it for a strike. When you see a guy able to throw a pitch for a strike more often, while simultaneously seeing decreased hits and production when batters do put it in play it’s easy to get excited. First you build the confidence, then you can throw the pitch more often, then you get the women, but before we get to the uncensored portion of the program it would be good to check to see if he’s already throwing this thing more often:
This 10-start moving average tells us that he has really amped up his slider usage, while decreasing his fastball usage to nearly 50% over the most recent term. Additionally, he is throwing the change up more than he has at times in his career, but he’s still not using it even 10% of the time. Ideally, as Archie develops the pitch and begins to have more confidence we’ll see him throwing the change up 15% of the time and even more often when he can, which should help him not have to lean on the slider quite so heavily.
The next step of this is to look at velocity separation from the fastball and where he is throwing the pitch in the zone, but I’ve got a hungry baby that needs to be fed so that will have to wait until next time. Until then stay humble and hungry.