Archer's Struggles | The Process Report

Archer’s Struggles

Unlike the overall team’s performance, Chris Archer‘s efforts have not been as bad as the numbers look. There is a reason why his SIERA is a full three runs lower than his actual ERA. The most recent outing against Philadelphia did a fair job of turning his overall numbers in the wrong direction, but there should be a brighter future ahead with some adjustments.

Archer’s first start of 2018 was better than the numbers look given two of the earned runs came on that botched flyball between Denard Span and Kevin Kiermaier that became an inside-the-park home run. The second outing against New York was done in very cold weather, and it is tough to expect a pitcher at their best in sub-optimal conditions. The outing against Chicago was in similar conditions, but the Philadelphia outing was indefensibly terrible.

One thing that has been persistent in these outing to date is Archer’s struggles against lefty hitters. Archer was rather split neutral coming into the season, but the early season efforts are much different. Using Jason Hanselman’s approach of showing both wOBA and twOBA (which includes non-batted ball events), the recent struggles are stark:

2013-2017 (wOBA) 2054 0.301 1863 0.285 3917 0.293
2018 (twOBA) 47 0.449 49 0.313 96 0.380
Total (Blended) 2121 0.307 1912 0.286 4013 0.297

The numbers against righties in 2018 are a bit higher than they have historically been, but the numbers against lefties are a few deviations higher through 47 plate appearances. Hanselman’s chart shows that the contact against Archer has not been fluky as there are a number of dots in the green areas that pitchers hope to avoid.

The slider will always be Archer’s moneymaker, but it is a pitch with rather large platoon splits for most guys. His slider has not had that trouble historically as he limited lefty hitters to a .241 wOBA against the pitch heading into 2018. This season, that number has more than doubled to .540 as seven sliders have been hit safely in play, including two doubles and two home runs right down the right-field line. The contact rate by lefties on the pitch is barely higher this year (68%) than its historical rate (65%), and Archer has mostly been locating the pitch in the same area albeit with some command troubles.

One other thing that is noticeable in watching video is that Archer has moved his position on the rubber with a shift from the first base side of the rubber to the third base side of the rubber:

Pitchers do not make this kind of change without a purpose. Blake Snell moved from the center of the rubber toward the end of last year after historically pitching from the third base side of it and gave his reasons why the move was a good one for him. To date, we do not yet have a reason why Archer has made the shift, but it appears to be adversely affecting him against lefties early on.

His numbers against righties this season have remained rather flat, but the move has helped his slider play up a little more as righties are doing very little with it early on regarding batting average:

The early gains on the slider against the righties are good, but the opportunity cost seems extreme once you look at how both his fastball and slider are doing early on against the lefties. That batting average against his fastball is not a misprint; it is indeed .615:

MLB hitting coach Dale Sveum had said it best when he said, “People think players cover both sides of the plate, but not really. Not too many people have been that good in the history of the game to cover both sides of the plate. You just can’t.” One of the dangers of moving to an extreme side of the rubber is the extra exposure it gives opposing hitters. That risk, thus far, is being compounded by Archer doing so little work on the inner third of the plate.

Archer has thrown 165 pitches to lefties in 2018, 144 of which have been fastballs or slider. 36 of those 144 pitches (25%) have been thrown on the inner third of the plate, and just 10 of those pitches have been fastballs:

We know that Archer has swing and miss stuff, but when any pitcher does not work both sides of the plate, that eliminates some of the guesswork for batters. The pitfalls of that type of process was explained by Greg Holland back in 2013 :

“Pitchers like to pitch on the outer half of the plate — away — because it’s hard to hit a pitch on the outer half of the plate out of the park. Stay on the outer half and, unless the guy has unusual opposite-field power, he’s likely to stay in the park. But continually pitch on the outer half — away, away, away — and hitters start to “dive.” They stride toward the outer half of the plate and now, as far as the hitter is concerned, that pitch on the outside corner is right down the middle.”

It will be interesting to watch what happens tonight as he takes on a Minnesota lineup that is loaded with lefty batters. The lineup is likely to have Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario, Logan Morrison, Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman, Jason Castro, and possibly Max Kepler depending on the health of his knee.

Change is not easy nor are the results immediate. Archer is clearly trying something different this year, and while it is helping his moneymaker be even better against righties, his numbers are rather bankrupt against lefties through four outings. Keeping the hitters honest on the inner third with fastballs would appear to be one way to try to change the course in 2018 if this starting position on the rubber is going to be permanent for this season. If that is not going to happen, perhaps more changeups to lefties that can fade away from the zone will come into play. Tonight is an immediate test for Archer with a lefty-laden lineup to see what adjustments may or may not come into play.