On September 8th, 2012 Chris Archer earned a no-decision in a start against the Rangers. He allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings. He struck out 11 batters and walked only two. It was the best performance of his brief major-league career, and personification of the scouting reports that herald him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. As we power toward opening day 2013, let us take one last look at that early September performance using the new tools and information afforded to us by ESPN Stats & Info.
The 99 pitches (68 strikes) thrown by Archer represented the highest total of any of his six appearances last season. In addition to results, it was also his best showing of pitch allocation. Against a powerful Texas lineup, he threw 66 fastballs, 22 sliders, and 11 changeups. Fastballs and sliders are a staple of the Archer diet, but the changeup was an added wrinkle; one that is vital to his development moving forward.
Archer’s fastball served as his primary weapon. Already graded as a plus major-league offering, he used it as a bookend, starting and ending at-bats with the heat. Ranging between 92 and 97 MPH, he induced 10 whiffs on 27 swings with the fastball—including five resulting in strikeouts. Facing a right-handed heavy lineup, he pounded the pitch armside and down; inside to righties and away from lefties.
Following the fastball in usage was the slider; arguably the most lethal piece of ammunition in Archer’s arsenal. One knock on Archer in the minors was his overuse or reliance on the pitch because it was/is so good. Against the Rangers, he was calculated in his usage of the slider, saving it mostly for knock-out punches. Archer threw 22 sliders overall with more than half coming in two-strike counts. It was the put-away pitch on five strikeouts; all of the swing-and-miss variety. He varied the location at times, but threw a concentrated amount low-and-away versus righties or toward the back foot of lefties.
For a more specific example, take a look at this slider thrown to Josh Hamilton in the first inning.
The slider comes out of Archer’s hand with the ball seemingly in the right-handed batter’s box. As the pitch comes closer to home, it looks like a meatball to Hamilton located middle-middle in the strike zone. Meanwhile, due to exceptional late break, the slider takes a sharp turn down and in, running right past Hamilton’s barrel for strike three. In an example of the fine line between success and failure at the highest level, in his next at-bat, Hamilton crushed an Archer slider that didn’t slide enough, resulting in a two-run blast.
Lagging his fastball and slider in both usage and effectiveness is Archer’s change up. Conversely, much of his success will be predicated on the development of the off-speed pitch. At the same time, it does not need to match the fastball or slider in quality. Instead, it needs to be disruption in the opposition’s gameplan more than anything else. That is the role it served against Texas. He threw it 11 times, accounting for eight strikes including several mistimed swings resulting in foul balls.
If you ask Rays’ manager Joe Maddon when Chris Archer arrived at the important third stage of his career, he would likely reference September 13th, 2012. In an extra-inning loss to the Orioles, the young right-hander pitched himself in and out of trouble; most notably a daring escape of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the 13th inning. If this serves as his debut on stage three, than his performance five days earlier stands as one hell of a warm-up.
Data and heatmaps courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.