Chris Archer Needs Target Practice

After a breakout 2015 campaign (2014 wasn’t a legit breakout, as it required a 6.9% HR/FB rate), this was not the start Chris Archer owners were expecting. He has posted an ugly 7.32 ERA and a rather hilarious 2.08 WHIP. That’s not a typo — his WHIP is above 2.00! It has only been four starts, but since he has already allowed six runs in half of them, it’s logical that there would be some concern. So let’s try to figure out what, if anything, is wrong.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. If we sort our starting pitcher leaderboard by BABIP in descending order, Archer finds himself with the second highest mark in baseball. That would certainly explain part of the inflated ERA. Next, sort that same board by HR/FB rate and who appears at the top? Archer, of course. So, he has the second highest BABIP and the highest HR/FB rate! And that, my friends, is how you’re saddled with a 7.32 ERA, but a healthy 3.32 SIERA.

Theory #1 — It’s just some bad luck that so happened to have occurred during a string of four straight games to open the year.

You don’t want to just blindly accept that, though, right? Of course not. So let’s check in on his fastball velocity, which has been a topic of conversation.

Chris Archer Velocity

You could see that in his first two starts, his velocity was indeed down. But it has rebounded in his last two starts to back above 94 mph. That’s still a mile per hour below last year, but it’s only April, so the decline isn’t all that worrisome.

How about the effectiveness of his repertoire? We can check to get the breakdown of his strike types. These are the components of my xK% equation.

Chris Archer Strike Type Rates
Year Looking/Strike Swinging/Strike Foul/Strike xK%
2012 34.4% 16.4% 25.1% 26.1%
2013 27.8% 15.4% 28.5% 20.7%
2014 30.9% 15.9% 24.4% 21.2%
2015 27.4% 21.6% 26.6% 28.0%
2016 27.4% 20.7% 27.8% 26.7%
Career 29.0% 18.1% 26.3% 24.1%

Compared to last year, his strike rate types are virtually identical, with a few less swinging strikes and a few more foul strikes. Clearly, the quality of his stuff remains top notch. That’s no surprise, as his strikeout rate sits at an elite 29.6%.

There are several metrics that do jump off the page though. We’ll begin with some explanation for his high BABIP — an inflated 27.6% line drive rate and a league leading Hard% (along with a Soft% that is fourth lowest). How hitters could simultaneously have such difficulty making contact, while also hitting with such thump when they do make contact, baffles.

Last, we arrive at his control issues. His current 11.2% walk rate would be a career high. Let’s go back to to look at the component of my xBB% equation.

Chris Archer Control Trend
Year Str% 3-0 Count% xBB%
2012 61.0% 5.7% 10.7%
2013 63.8% 4.8% 8.7%
2014 62.9% 4.6% 8.7%
2015 65.0% 3.1% 7.8%
2016 61.3% 6.1% 10.5%
Career 63.7% 4.2% 8.5%

And there it is. That inflated walk rate is a direct result of fewer strikes thrown. Duh. Over a small sample, strike rate and walk rate don’t always line up, so it was important to confirm that it does in his case. And you see his xBB% also validate that his control has been off. I included his 3-0 count percentage as well, as that has nearly doubled from last season.

Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan made his best guess as to what was behind Archer’s issues. He believes it’s a simple mechanical issue with his landing foot, while a commenter noticed that his elbow is much more bent this year than last season. Mechanical troubles could certainly explain his poor control thus far, though even without perfect mechanics, there is still clearly some poor fortune involved in those ridiculous BABIP and HR/FB rates. If it’s truly just a mechanical thing, this would be great news for his owners as it means he’s healthy and it’s easily fixable.

Theory #2 — It’s a mechanical issue that should be easily fixed.

But we’re just speculating here. We don’t know for sure. When you throw a slider more than 30% of the time (and nearly 40% last season!), there’s always the worry of an arm injury. When your control suddenly disappears, the alarm bells ring louder.

Theory #3 — After throwing soooooo many sliders, his arm has been shot and he’s pitching hurt.

Ignore his ERA and actual results. All we care about is the high walk rate (driven by the low strike rate) and whether that’s a signal that Archer isn’t healthy. If a little birdie would assure me that Archer is 100%, without a doubt, healthy, then I’d be all over trying to acquire him. But because there is that small risk, I think that you need to demand an additional discount beyond the poor results discount you would have potentially received in your standard buy low situation. If you’re curious, I’m far less concerned here than I am about Felix Hernandez, who I shared my thoughts about on Monday.

We hoped you liked reading Chris Archer Needs Target Practice by Mike Podhorzer!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

newest oldest most voted

This goes back to his last 6 starts of last season as well. He also faced AL East teams in all but one of those 10 starts (CLE this year). He has not hit 7+ innings since mid August.
Could be a combination of his control as well as high scoring offenses that want to work the count. In most of those games his SwStr% has been below 10%.