2015 Fantasy Baseball: Chris Archer Ascends To The Throne
It’s a special moment in a fantasy baseball draft when you land a player you’ve been targeting for a while – whether it’s been throughout the offseason in your draft prep or just for several minutes in the draft room. Fortunately this year in my long-time keeper league I landed Chris Archer. Through the pure amazingness of MLB.tv I’ve been able to watch a lot of Archer’s innings this year, and I wanted to take a deep dive into his success. So come along with me why don’t you?
As of Tuesday evening Archer leads all American League pitchers in strikeouts with 37, four short of James Shields‘ MLB-leading total. But how many times has Shields struck out a pitcher? Six. So we can say that Archer is the top strikeout pitcher in the league right now, pretty much. Archer has raised his strikeout rate to a whopping 30.6 percent this season, which ranks sixth among all starters. His walk rate in the past three seasons: 10, 7, 8. This season: 5. His K%-BB% has more than doubled, from 12.3 to 25.6 percent, a figure that ranks fourth in all of MLB.
How has he done that? Thanks mostly to his 95-mph heater, he’s throwing more first-pitch strikes – 64.5 percent of the time, up six percentage points from his career rate. He’s also throwing 53.4 percent of pitches in the zone, which is up over eight percentage points from his career rate. Hitters have a career-low zone contact rate against Archer so far.
Even more indicative of Archer’s success is his, um, success at getting hitters to swing and miss outside of the strike zone. Among qualified pitchers Archer has the fifth-best outside-zone contact rate at 48.6 percent. In any of his previous seasons he’d never had an o-contact rate lower than 60 percent.
Archer has induced more whiffs on outside-the-zone pitches this season due to an increased use of his slider and changeup:
You might be thinking that increase is small – and it is – but his changeup usage goes up to 18 percent against lefties in all counts. Thirty-four of his 40 changeups in 2015 have been to left-handed batters. His 40 changeups thrown in 2015 are almost a quarter of the 165 he threw total in 2014.
You can also notice the increased usage of his slider, which is his knockout pitch. With two strikes Archer throws his slider 59 percent of the time to lefties and 56 percent of the time to righties. That leads to a 42 percent whiff/swing rate and an insane strikeout rate:
Twenty-eight strikeouts in 58 at-bats ending in a slider, regardless of batter handedness. So the increased slider usage – from about 30 percent the past two seasons to 38 percent this year – has paid off well for Archer.
Archer currently has a career-high ground ball rate of 59 percent, up from the mid-40s previously. His fly ball rate has shrunk every season he’s pitched in the majors from the high 30s down to 25 percent this season. That good batted-ball profile is a product of where he’s placing his changeup and slider. The first zone profile is of his changeup locations and whiff/swing rate followed by the slider.
I see a ton of red at the bottom of the zone, which shows us how Archer has improved his o-contact, groundball and whiff/swing rates with his two dynamite pitches. Archer is only 26, and he seems like an intelligent person and pitcher. I think he is a prime example of someone figuring out how to put together raw athleticism with what he’s learned from being in the Majors to become an outstanding young pitcher.