The trade and struggles of Chris Archer have been well-documented by the baseball community. As many patrons of this very website know, Archer was sent from the Rays to the Pirates at the 2018 trade deadline for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and a player to be named later, who was revealed as Shane Baz. Both Meadows and Glasnow have been very productive at the major league level for the Rays, while Baz is FanGraph’s 63rd-rated prospect on THE BOARD, carrying a future value of 50.
Archer, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. The once-tantalizing strikeout artist has delivered a 5.01 ERA paired with a 5.05 FIP. He has still struck out batters at a 26.0% rate, but his walk rate with the Bucs has surged to 10.1%. The main culprit for Archer’s spell of bad performance has been home runs; Archer has always tended to give up more fly balls than the average hurler, but since his move to Pittsburgh, 19.6% of his fly balls have gone over the fence, about 6% more than league average over that time span. Naturally, this leaves all of us baseball fans wondering, what happened to the pitcher who just four years ago was deemed by Dave Cameron as one of the 10 most valuable assets in MLB?
The Pirates were once thought of as one of the savviest organizations in baseball, a team that could spin washed-up pitchers into innings-eating workhorses. Detailed in Travis Sawchik’s book Big Data Baseball, the Pirates were one of the first teams to weaponize the infield shift. Pirates pitchers under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage have been taught to rely on sinkers and two-seamers and to induce ground balls that can be gobbled up by the shift. As hitters have adjusted to the shift and focused on putting balls in the air, the Pirates’ approach of tailing fastballs low in the strike zone has become outdated. What was once the fountain of youth for veteran pitchers has become the focus of ridicule from the more analytically inclined. Read the rest of this entry »