Chris Archer Has Been Really Good… at Home
You’ve watched his starts. You know something’s wrong, but you can’t quite figure it out. Chris Archer is having the worst season of his career whether you use ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, WAR whatever he’s not doing well:
Part of the problem is that he’s giving up an obscene number of homers, but the most important things that we can look at are his elevated walk rate coming with a diminished strikeout rate. Some regression should have probably been expected in the strikeouts, but it had seemed that Chris had put the walk ghosts out of his life forever. They’ve returned, and their problem is multifold. The walk is merely the culmination of a count where the pitcher has fallen behind, but it isn’t the worst outcome once that becomes the case.
The strange thing that appears upon diving past the surface is that we can see that Chris has been really, really, REALLY freaking good at home and the exact opposite with all the requisite reallys on the road:
His evaluative metrics are all grossly better at the Trop, and the song remains the same for his component stuff (on the right) other than a massive difference in his ground ball rate. Seeing stuff like this makes my ears perk up like a labrador leaning out a window so let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can figure out the hardest part. Why is this happening? Let’s start with some summaries:
Starting at the top we can see that the number of swings per pitch evoked by Archie is virtually the same whether at home or on the road. However, it does look like he puts around eight percent more offerings into the rulebook strike zone at home than on the road. That is a rather large difference showing that he seems to be able to locate his pitches better when he is at home.
The second portion of the table shows the results of when the batter chooses to swing. Here we can see that he’s allowing around five and a half percent fewer balls in play per swing at home than on the road with the majority of those being turned into swinging strikes as shown by the 4.7% uptick in that rate. The bottom portion of the table shows the results of only the balls that were actually put in play. Here we see massive changes in his batting average and slugging percentage on balls in play.
He is throwing more pitches in the zone at home with the desired result of no change in swing patterns, which means that he is essentially stealing strikes at home. Add in that he’s getting more swinging strikes at home, as well, and it’s not difficult to see him getting ahead in the count more often, which shows up when looking at those strikeout rates based on venue. Lastly, when batters do manage to put a ball in play they’re doing so at below average rates at home that become cover-your-eyes bad when he goes on the road. It would take a simple person to say that he has not pitched better at home than on the road, but this merely gives confirmation from a different perspective of the numbers above. It still doesn’t tell us why this is happening. For that, let’s start with his pitch mix:
You can see that when out and about he has traded some fastballs for sliders, but mostly this comes out of necessity. When Chris falls behind in the count he has no problem leaning on his best pitch, the slider, to help him get back in the count or to induce soft contact that ends the encounter altogether. When flipping over to Run Values, RV, which uses the inputs of Ian Malinowski’s incredible research, we see just how much necessity there has been. While the performance of the slider is reasonably similar whether home or away you can plainly see that this fastball and change up have been drastically different. And by different I mean dramatically worse on the road than at home.
Despite similar repertoire he is seeing wildly different results, and by this point we’re firmly into the land of useful samples. This gives us a new clue to chase down so let’s now look at whether anything is amiss in his pitch movement charts:
Well that is fucking crazy, excuse my language. You can see that all of his pitches are showing tremendous fade on the road as opposed to home. The fastballs are straighter and many of those are essentially cutters at home. The change seems more under control, the slider more bite. Everything looks like it has more life to it. This is the piece that we’re looking for, because it explains everything.
Unfortunately, when change is that dramatic it could be due to three things. Either he is moving more to the third base side of the rubber on the road, the cameras at the Trop are wildly different from those on the road, or this is a real thing. The first is pretty easy to look at using his release point:
Well that looks mostly fine so I think we can rule out that he’s favoring one side of the rubber over the other dependent on where he is pitching. The next is a little trickier so let’s look at the other righties on the staff that have thrown a good amount of pitches:
Well that is less encouraging as it looks like a lot of this change is a systemic issue related to the calibration of the Trop’s pitch f/x cameras. If that is the case then we should be able to account for this change with some help of our friend math:
Overall we see close to two inches of run and an inch of drop being lost for the staff when going from on the road to back home. Let’s see what Archer’s plot looks like after making this adjustment:
That looks a little better. The slider seems to show more downward break at home, but the slider hasn’t been the issue. We still see a little more arm-side run on the fastball and a little less finish on the change, but these seem more within the bounds of throwing a baseball. So if it isn’t the pitch usage and it isn’t totally the pitch movement then what in the heck is going on? Well, let’s look at the location of the problematic offerings starting with the heater:
On the left you will find a heatmap of his fastball location on the road with his home location on the right. When on the road he is unable to elevate the fastball to the top of the strike zone either missing above or well enough below that it becomes a supremely hittable pitch. The misses above aren’t the worst pitches because they likely became balls or terrible swings, but the ones within the zone get absolutely mashed. When at home he is able to attack the top of the zone with a similar amount of misses up, but many fewer in the middle or bottom half of the zone. Let’s look at the change:
Again, road locations are on the left with home locations on the right. Starting with the roadies you can see that many of those offerings are uncompetitive pitches that are below the zone getting spat on lefties and righties, alike. He isn’t putting it in a terrible spot when he is able to get it in the zone, but it is incredibly easy to lay off of most of his third pitch. At home that becomes less of an issue, because he is able to make it look like a halfway decent offering. The clump in the middle of the plate isn’t ideal, but that blob that walks the line between rulebook strike, commonly called strike, and out of both zones is something that he can work with.
Prior to this analysis my observations were that he has really struggled to throw his fastball to the arm side or up above the zone. My thoughts were that it was mostly a non-competitive pitch that batters could easily take until they got something more to their liking. This seems to be confirmed quite a bit, but with an important departure, in that, he has mostly been fine at home and getting hammered on the road. The change up tells a similar tale, while the slider has mostly been ok regardless of stadium.
While, these observations do shed light on why there has been such a stark difference between home and road results it does not begin to answer how to make Chris Archer more into his home self when on the road. He states that his routine has been the same throughout his career, but I find it nearly impossible to believe that you can do the same stuff living out of a suitcase that you would do from the comforts of your home. Perhaps it is a mental or comfort issue, but the sooner he starts to figure out how to throw better pitches on the road, the sooner his overall numbers will look like his very good home numbers.