No player on the Pirates' roster draws the ire of Pittsburgh sports fans quite like Chris Archer. Through no fault of his own, Archer's name is unfortunately linked to one of the most lopsided trades in recent baseball history. The fan's frustration with that that trade has only been exacerbated by Archer's struggles on the mound. After a sub-par second half to 2018 (immediately following the trade), Archer hoped to rebound in 2019. However, last year proved be the worst of his eight year career. Let's take an in-depth look into Archer's 2019 to see what happened.
Archer's 2019 season was ugly. As I said, it was the worst of his career. His 5.19 ERA, 1.412 WHIP, 1.9 HR/9, and 4.1 BB/9 were all career highs.
We can't discount the fact that Chris wasn't healthy for much of last season. It's tough to say how much those injuries hampered him on the field, but his drop in velocity suggests that they did. Archer's fast ball averaged out at 94 MPH, which is the slowest of his career. That may be a natural decrease due to wear and tear, or it could be the result of not being healthy. It's something to look out for as Archer starts 2020 healthy.
Another factor that contributed to his down year (including the second half of 2018) is the implementation of his sinker. When Archer was at his best in 2015, he threw two pitches almost exclusively to right-handed batters, the fast ball and the slider. To lefties, he sprinkled in his change up to keep them off-balance, but that was it. For the second half of last season, Archer dropped his sinker and returned to the three-pitch mix he utilized in 2015. Unfortunately, that's when the shoulder injury happened. So, we didn't get a full sample size, but the initial results showed an improvement.
Archer will be working with a new pitching coach next season. Oscar Marin will be tasked with being the one to finally unlock the potential inside Archer's right arm. I'd expect Marin's plan for Chris to start with that fast ball and slider, and see if there's another pitch he can throw effectively. One thing I hope Archer continues under Marin's direction is how he approached left-handed batters in 2019.
The Pirates' organization has gotten a lot of flack for how they have ruined some talented pitchers' years in Pittsburgh, but they were onto something with Archer when it came to lefties. Archer's most effective pitch is his slider. In 2017 (Archer's last full year in Tampa), most of Archer's sliders were thrown down and away to lefties. See the chart below.
His slider was still effective against left-handed batters, but he was more effective throwing the vast majority of sliders down and away to right-handed batters. This shouldn't come as a surprise. A right-handed pitcher throwing a breaking ball down and away to a right-handed batter is notoriously tough to hit, but Archer made an adjustment last season that made his slider significantly more effective against lefties than it was against righties.
In 2019, most of Archer's sliders were thrown down and in to lefties with great success. See the chart below.
In 2019, lefties hit .171 off of Archer's slider. He also got a higher two-strike whiff rate with it against lefties (24.3%) than righties (22.9%). I don't know about you, but that's pretty encouraging to me, and gives me some hope for Archer's future. If he can handle left-handed batters with his slider, that takes away an advantage that opposing teams have against him as a right-handed pitcher.
As I pointed out in the second paragraph, Archer walked more batters on average last season than he ever has. That's something that needs to improve right away. The good news there is that, simply by dropping the sinker, Archer improved his walk rate. He had difficulty throwing his sinker for strikes and, since dropping it, he saw his BB/9 rate go from 4.72 in the beginning of the year to 3.07 in the second half. I'd argue that it still needs to be lower than 3, but he survive with that.
If 2020, is going to be the year the Meadows/Glasnow/Baz trade-related nausea starts to subside, I think Archer needs to simplify his approach and return to an arsenal that includes a fast ball, a slider, and a change up (to lefties). He also needs to continue dominating left-handed batters by throwing the slider down and in. If he does those two things, and stay healthy of course, I think the mood towards Archer could shift a bit
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife