We’re nearing the one-year anniversary of Pittsburgh acquiring right-hander Chris Archer from Tampa Bay in a whopper of a trade. The Pirates, under the impression they were getting back a front-line starter, sent high-caliber prospects Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to the Rays in exchange for Archer last July 31. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the deal has been a catastrophe to this point. Archer has flopped, while Glasnow and Meadows may be turning into core pieces for the Rays.
With two-plus months left in his first full season as a Pirate, Archer’s on pace for a career-worst campaign. The 30-year-old has offset an impressive strikeout rate (10.07 K/9) with control problems (4.69 BB/9) and home run issues (2.29 HR/9) en route to a 5.49 ERA/5.91 FIP in 78 2/3 innings. Stunningly, among 110 pitchers who have thrown at least 70 frames in 2019, the once-excellent Archer ranks sixth from the bottom in ERA and second last in FIP.
Now, Archer’s in the process of trying to turn around his fortunes, as he explained to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archer will hope to do a 180 with a different repertoire. He dumped his two-seam fastball in a June 22 start against the Padres and plans to rely more heavily on his signature slider. Archer told Mackey batters’ “slugging percentage on my two-seamer was extremely high. One way to eliminate the damage is just to not throw the pitch that has the most damage. It’s not a complex thing. It was just getting banged. I got rid of it.”
Archer’s right. Hitters own a ludicrous .867 slugging percentage against the pitch – one Statcast classifies as a sinker and says he has turned to 15.8 percent of the time this season. Archer didn’t throw a sinker in any of the three full seasons before the Pirates acquired him, but it became a prominent part of the mix last year. While Archer told Mackey that “I probably tried to change too much” upon relocating to Pittsburgh, he and pitching coach Ray Searage insist the hurler – no one else – determines what he throws. Searage indicated he and Archer have a great relationship.
Whereas Archer’s two-seamer was a disaster before he scrapped it, his slider has been eminently effective throughout his career. That includes this season, during which hitters have mustered a toothless .290 weighted on-base average/.293 expected wOBA against it. Archer believes it’s “one of the best pitches in baseball.” And yet, he has leaned on it far less than usual this season, having tossed it at a 35.1 percent clip. That’s down 6.6 percent from last season and 9.5 percent compared to 2017.
Simply throwing more sliders and fewer sinkers won’t be the solution alone, according to Searage, who told Mackey that Archer also must improve his four-seam fastball command. In Searage’s estimation, that will lead to a decrease in homers against Archer, who had never allowed HRs on more than 16.2 percent of fly balls in a season until 2019. This year, he’s giving them up at a 23.8 percent rate. Only two starters have been worse in that department. Archer has had enough.