Chris Archer is the classic two-pitch pitcher. He’s got a high velocity, albeit slightly flat, fastball, as well as one of the game’s dirtiest sliders. His fastball has never missed many bats, and it’s always had a wRC+ of over 120 in every year save for 2013. His fastball is nothing like that of the “spin king” Luke Bard, as it holds a pretty pedestrian 2192 RPM, less than the average MLB fastball spin rate of 2264 RPM. However, his high velocity fastball, ranking 21st this year for starters averaging about 95 mph, contrasts well with his wipeout slider.
As you can see here in this sequence to strikeout Josh Donaldson, the two pitches complement each other well. It is hard for any hitter to adjust from a 97 mph fastball to a knee buckling slider.
His slider, save for this year, has been devastating. Nobody really likes to hit his slider, and that is why he is one of the most prolific slider throwers in the game. He’ll make lefties and righties alike to look silly.
For example, Yangervis Solarte and Zack Cozart have both fallen victim this season.
The bread and butter for Archer is fastball away and up away and sliders below the zone with two strikes. Despite a 95 wRC+ on his slider this year, compared to his career mark of 65, the swinging strike rate on his slider is still high and there’s no reason the pitch can’t return to form. There’s not much that’s changed with this pitch. The average spin rate is about the same as the last year, sorry @Trevor Bauer.
Archer’s past two years have been somewhat rough. In 2016, Chris Archer went 9-19. Only he and James Shields had done that in the last 14 years. I know I’m not really supposed to talk about wins and losses, but James Shields -1.1 WAR season is not great company. In 2017, Chris Archer posted a strong 4.6 WAR and fell victim to a .325 BABIP that is almost 30 points higher than his career. He’s still looking to repeat the 5.2 WAR 2015 with a 3.23 ERA and a 2.90 FIP.
Archer has also always liked to throw the slider more with two strikes. Over his career, he has thrown 2719 sliders with two strikes, compared to 3734 sliders before two strikes. Archer has always relied heavily on the two strike slider to both lefties and righties.
This year, Archer has faced 134 lefties and struck out 23, just under 18%. For his career, he strikes out lefties at a 25.3% rate. Strikeout rate stabilizes after about 70 batters faced, so clearly something is up with Chris archer when he faces lefties. Here was Chris last year against lefties, his best year striking them out.
And here is Archer this year. Can you tell the difference?
No lefties are missing whiffing in the zone, or above it anymore. While Archer doesn’t have the typical rise or spin rate of a high fastballer, he needs his second best pitch to generate some whiffs. Archer has thrown 217 fastballs this year to lefties, 14 swinging strikes. No swinging strikes with 2 strikes. Archer has yet to strikeout a lefty with his fastball. Now this in not a huge difference, as lefties struck out on his fastball just 14 times last year, with a 7.5% whiff rate on it.
The issue is not the fastball, but that lefties just aren’t missing his slider. They know the slider is coming; it’s Archer’s put away pitch. And when he puts it right below the zone, it’s practically unhittable. That’s what Archer wants to do, throw below the zone and back foot sliders to lefties. This year and last, Archer induced 147 swinging strikes to lefties on sliders below the zone, on 330 sliders, a whiff rate of 44%. But when he throws the slider in the zone to lefties, it has a whiff rate of 10%, compared to 18% last year.
The reasons for Archer’s troubles against lefties may be explained in a great piece, http://theprocessreport.net/archers-struggles/, which Jason Collette wrote for the Process Report.
Archer has moved from the first base side of the rubber, last season on the left, to the third base side of the rubber, this year on the right. How has he done with this so far?
His fastball has been failing against righties and lefties and his slider results are divergent.
Pitchers don’t move where they stand for no reason. Clearly, it makes it harder for righties to see the slider coming out of his hand, and they have a far worse angle on the pitch. But, a slider is also a hard pitch to throw to a batter of opposite handedness, especially when you have to throw it for a strike. When Archer’s slider is coming at an angle where lefties can read the spin even easier, they will miss a little bit less. For example, here is a slider in the zone to a lefty, and J.P. Crawford doesn’t miss.
Archer’s move from one side of the rubber isn’t easy. He’s facing batters in a way that he’s likely never faced them before. And this has resulted in some dramatic success against righties. But if he wants to throw fastballs or sliders in the zone to lefties, they just aren’t going to miss. At this point in his career, Archer is hardly going to try to develop a great slider. It’s just not in his DNA. So, we know the results of Archer’s change, and he has to ask himself, what is the cost.