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Chris Archer: Playing With Fire

The new Twins righty has been living dangerously

MLB.com

In 2022, a surprising strength of the Twins has been their starting pitching, which has come out of relative obscurity to lead the Twins’ staff to a fifth-best ERA in the MLB. Their staff has been a far cry from a Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz or Hudson/Mulder/Zito ensemble, instead being buoyed by some surprising rookies and several different veteran options. One of those options has been longtime hurler Chris Archer, a two-time All Star with a top-five Cy Young finish in 2015.

Archer’s path to the Twins was an interesting one to say the least. Once ranked as high as #27 in the Baseball America Top 100, Archer was traded twice before his MLB debut. In 2008, he was dealt from Cleveland to the Cubs in a trade featuring Mark DeRosa. During the winter of 2011, the Rays traded former Twin Matt Garza to the Cubs in exchange for a package that featured Archer. He would become an All Star for the Rays, but the Rays would flip him at the trade deadline in 2018, in what would become one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory. Archer would be dealt to the Pirates for outfielder Austin Meadows, fireballer Tyler Glasnow, and young hurler Shane Baz. He was never able to find his form or his health with the Pirates, as he had an ERA close to 5.00 for his career with Pittsburgh before needing thoracic outlet surgery in 2020. He would return to the Rays for one injury-riddled season in 2021, before being a post-lockout flyer by the Twins a matter of days before the 2022 season began.

Because of the date of his signing and the fact that he was coming off an injury, the plan for Archer was to limit his pitches and ease him into a full starter’s load. At the beginning of the season, the Twins had rookie Josh Winder and an expanded roster to ease Archer’s “stretching out” process, but the Twins’ best laid plans went right out the window. Sonny Gray and Bailey Ober got injured early on and the roster was constricted after first month, forcing Winder into a starting role.

Despite being thrust into a full-time starting role, Archer has been able to stay healthy so far. The problem is that Archer has yet to fall into a full-time starter’s length, as he has only reached the fifth inning one time. He has been throwing in the neighborhood of 80 pitches each start, but he has had early exits due to elevated pitch counts. Some of Archer’s “baseball card” numbers have looked good so far, posting an ERA of 4.10 and striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings. His peripheral numbers, however, have been less-than-encouraging signs.

ERA/FIP:

  • ERA: 4.10
  • FIP: 5.83

K/9:

  • 2022: 8.2
  • Career: 9.8

BB/9:

  • 2022: 4.8
  • Career: 3.1

BABIP Against:

  • 2022: .236
  • Career: .302

Batting Average vs. Expected:

  • Batting average: .228
  • Expected: .268
  • League Expected: .246

Slugging vs. Expected:

  • Slugging: .465
  • Expected Slugging: .511
  • League Expected: .408

As you can see above, the peripheral numbers are expecting much worse outcomes than Archer has been receiving, which is surprising given the .465 SLG against already. Hitters have barreled up 10.3% of batted balls against Archer, which quite a bit above the league average of 6.7%. Basically, hitters are squaring up Archer’s pitches at a high rate, but as his BABIP shows, they are turning into outs. In terms of pitches, his 4-seamer has been targeted the most successfully, which batters have hit hard on 52.2% of contact. This is likely due to falling behind in counts, as he has thrown first-pitch strikes on a career-low 56.9% of plate appearances. Archer’s fastball has declined in both velocity and movement over time and falling behind in counts has not helped his cause. In an effort to keep hitters off-balance, pitching coach Wes Johnson and Archer have implemented his slider at a rate of 46.7%, a career high.

It’s maybe too early to say if Archer’s current repertoire is a result of still recovering from injury, or if he simply isn’t the same pitcher that finished in the top five for the Cy Young. It’s clear that Archer’s current profile won’t be effective for an entire season. In his current state, he is both dangerously playing with fire due to walks and hard contact, but also taxing the bullpen. In a perfect world, Archer will continue to gain strength and get healthier as the season builds, but that will remain to be seen.