What Is Chris Archer's Trade Value?
Just about every team in baseball is always on the lookout for good, young starting pitching. You can never have enough.
This year, there are only two "elite" starting pitchers on the free agent market, veterans Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, with mid-tier options Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb available, as well. Most teams are wary of spending big dollars on arms over 30 years old, like Darvish and Arrieta, or are reluctant to give up draft picks for lesser starters, like Lynn and Cobb.
If you want a young, dynamic starter, and you're one of the 29 teams Shohei Ohtani has said "no" to, you're likely looking at the trade market.
That's where the Tampa Bay Rays' Chris Archer enters the picture. At least one recent report indicated the Rays aren't anxious to move Archer, who recently turned 29 years old and is seen as one of the better pitchers in the game. Instead, the Rays would like to move Alex Colome and/or Jake Odorizzi. That's understandable. But if Tampa wanted to get the most bang for their buck, they'd undoubtedly get the most in return for Archer.
A look at his traditional numbers wouldn't lead one to believe that he was one of the best starters in the American League last year. He went 10-12 in 34 starts (201 innings) with a 4.07 ERA in 2017 -- certainly not great back-of-the-baseball-card numbers. But the peripherals tell the story of a pitcher who had a very solid season.
Over the last four years, Archer has seen his strikeout rate steadily increase, from a 21.1% strikeout rate in 2014 to a career-best 29.2% clip last year. He's also seen his walk rate drop from 8.8% in 2014 to a career-low 7.0% last season. He's striking out more guys and walking fewer, which is always a good sign.
Last season he gave up a .325 batting average on balls in play. The league average was .297, indicating Archer suffered from a bit of bad luck. Opponents batted just .245 against him, however, indicating he still did a reasonable job of getting guys out even with a little misfortune. And while he did give up more homers last year (1.21 per nine innings) than he did in 2014 and 2015, it was a lower homer-per-nine innings rate than what he put up the year before (1.34). It's also fair to note that more homers were given up by Major League pitchers as a whole last season than in any other season before.
While WAR totals are not the end-all, be-all of baseball statistics, one of them tells us that Archer's 2017 season was better than his traditional stats would indicate. His Fangraphs WAR of 4.6 was the second-highest of his career (5.2 in 2015). His Baseball Reference WAR of 1.2 was much lower -- given the fact that Fangraphs uses FIP to determine their's, while Baseball Reference uses ERA. Archer's FIP was 3.40; his ERA was 4.07.
But one of the best numbers to tell us how good Archer really was is Baseball Prospectus' DRA, which takes more aspects of a pitcher's performance into account. Last year, Archer's DRA of 3.30 was even a bit better than his FIP.
Some of his career splits might be cause for a moment of pause, but none of them should set off alarm bells. A right-handed pitcher, Archer has always done well against righties (.227/.289/.349) and less so against left-handers (.237/.308/.385), but the disparity isn't that great. He's also been a pitcher at home (3.17 ERA in 485 innings) than on the road (4.09 in 482 innings), which could be a cause for concern, depending on the home park he might land in.
And of course, Archer's contract also makes him an extremely attractive option to teams. He will make approximately $14 million total over the next two seasons, with two options for 2020 and 2021 at $8.25 million apiece. That's a pretty big bargain by today's standards.
Archer is an excellent pitcher who had a better 2017 season than his traditional numbers would suggest, which is why, if the Rays do make him available, teams would be lining up to put him at the top of their starting rotations. And he could likely net the Rays some very talented prospects if that's the route they choose to take.