The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Chris Archer dazzles at WBC, appears poised for bounce-back season

Last season was the most frustrating one of Tampa Bay Rays RHP Chris Archer’s career. The strikeouts and electric stuff were still present, but the results were not.

Last Friday, however, marked a promising sign for Archer as he aims to revert to the form that made him one of baseball’s brightest pitching stars just a couple years ago.

Kicking off the WBC for Team USA, Archer cruised against Team Colombia, retiring all 12 batters he faced with an efficient 41 pitches. Archer, despite his dominance, was pulled after four innings due to a predetermined arrangement between Team USA and the Rays.

Chris Archer WBC

Chris Archer was fired up after cruising through 4 scoreless innings against Team Colombia.

If Archer had his druthers, he would have stayed in the game as long as the 65-pitch limit would allow him.

“Looking in [manager] Jim Leyland’s eyes and telling him that I had to shut it down, it was tough,” Archer explained. “But I’m obligated to the Tampa Bay Rays. We had a plan coming in. We knew that was a possibility…I’m glad [Jim Leyland] didn’t put too much pressure on me to stay in, but it was definitely tough.”

Archer didn’t let his abridged start take away from the excitement of starting Game 1 for Team USA, a tacit nod that he is the team’s ace.

“It was definitely a special moment…I haven’t started in a postseason game in my career, and the last time I played in the postseason was four years ago. So to go out there and have that type of atmosphere, honestly, I got chill bumps four or five times before the game and just like kind of thinking to myself, is this real?”

As a competitor and one of the game’s more intelligent pitchers, Archer certainly wants to make it to the playoffs this season. If the Rays are going to surprise people and compete for a playoff berth in 2017, Archer will have to be much better than he was last year.

His Rays teammates were certainly encouraged by what they saw from afar.

“The best thing I saw from him, he kept everything down,” Rickie Weeks told Tampa Bay reporters. “Down, down. When you throw 95-plus [mph] and you’re keeping the ball down like that, it’s real hard to lay off that slider.

“Just all in all, with eveything going on, he pitched great. You have nerves, all the spectacle stuff going on as well. Good job overall by him.”

Star third baseman Evan Longoria also weighed in, heaping praise on his teammate.

“As effective as I’ve seen him be in a long time,” said Longoria. “Four innings, 40 pitches. Looked crisp. Slider looked good. I was excited for him…He looked ready to go. It was a great game to watch. It was fun watching Archer. He looked competitive, and that’s the guy we’re looking forward to seeing this year.”

But what happened to Archer last year, a season in which he went 9-191 with an ERA north of 4? Looking at the numbers, it appears that Archer was merely a victim of bad luck on home runs, with an astronomical HR-FB ratio of 16.3%. While Archer is to blame for failing to keep the ball down on many occasions, simple regression to his career norms should put him right back in the 3.3-3.60 ERA range in 2017. The stuff is still there, as evidenced by his high strikeout rate and consistency in his batted ball profile (fly balls, ground balls, line drives).

Moreover, Archer improved markedly in the latter half of the 2016 campaign, maintaining his elite strikeout rate while slashing his walk rate almost in half. If Archer can continue the improvement in command that he displayed in the second half, he should be in for a monster comeback season.

1: Here’s my philosophy on win-loss records. I pay very little, if any, attention to it unless the record is one extreme or another (lots of wins, or lots of losses). I understand that numerous factors go into a pitcher’s record that are out of his control (particularly his¬†team’s offense), but when I see 9-19, that’s a red flag to me. After all, the purpose of the game is to win, something Archer struggled mightily with last year.

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Updated: March 20, 2017 — 7:11 pm

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