Archer Goes Left Versus Yankees
Prior to Saturday’s game, Mike Axisa of RiverAveBlues.com and CBS’s Eye on Baseball noted the Yankees lineup featured eight left-handed batters (including switch-hitters) and one right-hander. Entering the contest, Rays’ starter Chris Archer had a career OPS against of .789 versus lefties and .496 versus righties (another hat tip to Axisa). Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi was not wrong for going with the splits, but moving forward opposing teams may be wary of Archer’s career numbers because things have changed.
Archer has evolved into a more complete pitcher over the past year. This is true even without much development on his changeup. Perhaps more important than a third offering, the young right-hander has become a strike thrower. And perhaps even more important than that control, he now boasts improved command.
For the first part of his brief career, Archer worked almost exclusively to his arm-side with his fastball. As you can see in 2012 and 2013, Archer’s fastball location was extremely predictable; especially versus left-handed batters.
Nearly 80 percent of his heaters were middle-away with a majority of them above the belt. Unsurprisingly, lefties hit .301/.403/.481 off his fastball during that time.
Things are a bit different now.
The natural run on his right-handed fastball still takes Archer toward the third-base side of the plate a fair amount of the time, but he has shown the ability to run the heater on the inner half as well as down in the zone. This could be in part to using a four-seam fastball along with a two-seamer that traditionally has more movement. Instead of trying to sneak fastballs through the back door, Archer is now routinely knocks on the front door with mid-90s heat. And with that he has shown the ability to do the inverse with his slider.
Archer’s slider has been his calling card throughout his time as a professional pitcher. He has thrown nearly 1,000 sliders as a big-leaguer, compiling a line of .203/.247/.333 with the pitch. Of his 158 career strikeouts, 87 have ended with the slide piece. Traditionally, this pitch was swept across the plate, landing most often on the glove-side of things.
Recently, Archer has shown the ability to throw a “shorter” slider that almost resembles a cutter. With this pitch, he has shown the ability to sneak in the back door against lefties with a strike.
In four starts this season, Archer has received 23 called strikes with his slider versus left-handed batters. Nine of those sliders came on Saturday versus the Yankees. Almost all of them were on the right-side of the plate with some noticeable help from catcher Ryan Hanigan.
The following sequence to Jacoby Ellsbury is a prime example of Archer’s new recipe. Take note of pitch three (slider 86 mph) and pitch four (fastball 95 mph). The Yankees’ lefties went 2-19 against Archer, who allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings.
The ability to mix speeds and change eye levels versus left-handed batters has actually given Archer reverse splits early this season. However, it has not yet stopped teams from stacking their lineups like Girardi did on Saturday. In fact, only one other right-handed starter (Sonny Gray) has pitched against the platoon split more than Archer has this season. It will an interesting sidebar to the season to see if Archer can continue to grow in this area and if opposing managers adjust accordingly.