Which Chris Archer Will the Tampa Bay Rays Get in 2017?
Chris Archer had a really interesting 2016 campaign.
The 28-year-old right-handed starter posted a 9-19 record and 4.02 ERA -- which gave him a career-worst 101 ERA+ (100 is league-average, the higher the better). However, despite his struggles, Archer still had an above-average FIP of 3.81 (translated to a 92 FIP-, or 8 points above the 100 average), a 3.41 xFIP (translated to an 80 xFIP-, a whopping 20 points above-average), and 3.50 SIERA.
Most of Archer's struggles came in the first half of the season, leading us to the big question -- which half showed the real Chris Archer? Can he be trusted to continue that positive second-half performance?
A Tale of Two Halves
Archer had extreme first- and second-half splits in 2016 -- those splits will be compared to each other, and compared to his career in this article. His first half was much worse than his second half, pretty much across the board.
While all his first-half numbers are worse, his BABIP is markedly higher in the first half than in the second half. But even when he was struggling early, he still posted a superb strikeout rate, which went a long way toward keeping his xFIP in check.
Walks were a real issue for him in the first half. He got that corrected, though, as the season progressed, and his second-half WHIP is a much more manageable number. Obviously, the less guys who get on base, the better.
So, now that we know how polarizing his 2016 splits were, how do they stack up to his career numbers?
Who Is the Real Chris Archer?
Archer's up-and-down season -- or down-and-up season, if you will -- is difficult to figure out, but looking at his three full seasons prior to 2016 can give us more data with which to work. The chart below shows his first- and second-half numbers from last season in comparison to those three prior campaigns.
|First Half 2016||1.44||26.90%||9.90%||.321||18||4.25||3.62|
|Second Half 2016||1.01||28.10%||5.20%||.265||12||3.29||3.15|
The two statistics that pop out here are BABIP -- again -- and his home runs allowed.
His BABIP in the first half of 2016 was a career-worst mark by a big margin. While Archer's first- and second-half BABIPs are vastly different, his number for the entire season was .296, right in the same wheelhouse and the previous two seasons.
The spike in BABIP can be a few things. It could have simply been bad luck, where bloop singles and the like were falling in when they normally did not. If the Rays had a subpar defensive performance in the first half of the season, it can adversely impact his BABIP, but Tampa Bay was just about league average, per UZR. It could also be Archer allowing more hard contact. He did have a 34.5% hard-hit rate in the first half -- compared to a 30.6% in the second half -- but that's not a terrible number, so a lot of this can be attributed to rotten luck.
As for the home run total, Archer gave up more home runs in the first half of 2016 than he did in either 2013 or 2014 overall. In fact, the 18 homers he allowed in the first half last season nearly surpass his previous career-worst mark for an entire year.
When you couple a case of gopheritis with a high BABIP, a slightly higher hard-hit rate and an increase in walks, it's going to be ugly. The good thing about projecting Archer long-term is that both his home runs and BABIP seem to be the exception and not the norm.
Archer got things ironed out in the second half. He upped his already-great strikeout rate, nearly sliced his walk rate in half and kept the ball in the yard.
Also, velocity is important in discussing Archer going forward. On average, Archer threw his fastball at 94.3 miles per hour (MPH), his slider at 88.2 MPH and his changeup at 86.6 MPH. His career averages? A 94.5 MPH fastball, 87.1 MPH slider and 85.7 MPH changeup. He was right in line with what he's done in the past, so his performance in both halves were not swayed by a dip in velocity, which would be an alarming red flag if it were the case.
What Does This Mean?
Archer's 2016, when stacked up against his career numbers, show one thing: he is more likely to recreate his second-half performance than his first.
His BABIP skyrocketed early on, but it ended up right around his career average. On top of that, the home runs he gave up were abnormal -- 30 of his 79 career home runs allowed came in 2016. While that is concerning, it is unlikely to continue. He is most likely spending 2017 in Tampa, although the Dodgers could push for him again at this year's trade deadline, so he is not moving to a new ballpark. He still has the same velocity, as well.
In the second half, Archer posted a 3.29 FIP and 3.15 xFIP with a 28.1% strikeout rate and 5.2% walk rate -- all of which are excellent numbers. Overall, his 3.41 xFIP ranked fifth among all qualified starters, and his 27.4% strikeout rate checked in seventh -- and both of those include his poor first half.
Archer is one of the game's top starters, and his first half of 2016 looks like a blip on the radar.