What's Wrong With Chris Archer?
After a 2015 season in which Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer posted the 10th-best Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) among pitchers at 5.3, there were definite reasons to be excited for the future, especially when considering his Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA). This stat is considered more predictive than Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), and Archer's 3.08 SIERA in 2015 also ranked 10th best.
The future was looking bright for the 27-year-old.
However, through 12 starts this season, Archer owns a 4.75 ERA -- which is 26th worst among qualified starters -- after the Kansas City Royals tagged him for five runs (four earned) in six innings pitched on Wednesday. He took the loss and now holds a record of 3-7.
We know there's much more to a pitcher's performance than ERA and their record, so let's dig a little deeper.
Archer's Advanced Stats
An obvious starting point for Archer is his strikeouts. Despite only striking out four Royals on Wednesday, his 76 K's for the season are tied for ninth-most, and his 25.5 strikeout percentage (K%) is 18th best (league average is 21.1 percent). This total is down from last year (29.0 percent), but is still impressive. However, among the 10 other pitchers who have 76 strikeouts or more, only one has a higher ERA or xFIP, and none have allowed more hits or walks.
Archer's 10.4 walk percentage (BB%) would be a career worst and is well above the league average of 8.3 percent, and his 1.52 WHIP is 12th-worst. He's having trouble keeping runners off of the bases, perhaps because of a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
The league average for BABIP is currently .295 and Archer's is much higher at .324, which is the 18th highest total. The quick analysis is to say that he's been unlucky, this number is inflated and will soon regress. I'd argue his BABIP is right where it should be, though.
Archer is allowing a hard-hit rate (Hard%) of 35.1 percent, which is 20th worst. Besides teammate Matt Moore -- whose Hard% is 35.8 (12th worst) -- all of the other starters for the Rays have a BABIP that is below the league average. This suggest that Archer's high BABIP is not unlucky or the fault of his fielders, and rather it's because he's consistently allowing hard contact.
It's created plenty of frustrating moments for Archer, like this one from Wednesday's game.
Chris Archer is not happy with Whit Merrifield https://t.co/XfXONFrxzq
— Jim McClintock (@pimpino) June 2, 2016
The solid contact has also led to an increase in home runs allowed. Archer has allowed 12 home runs this season, which is tied for the fifth-most, and his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (HR/FB) of 20.6 percent is fourth-worst.
His career HR/FB is just 10.6 percent, so it could be argued that this number will even out as the season goes on, but these totals have been shown to "vary considerably from year to year," meaning Archer's ability in the keep the ball in the yard in the past has little bearing on his ability to do so moving forward.
However, the amount of fly balls he's allowing this season (31.7 percent) is below his career average (33.0 percent). Less fly balls means less home runs, so his HR/FB ratio does seem inflated.
That's not the only good news for Archer. His 3.68 xFIP ranks 34th best and is better than the current league average of 4.08, and his ERA is almost a point higher than his 3.88 SIERA, suggesting his ERA will drop. Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the good news.
Archer hasn't been able to get batters to chase pitches outside of the strike zone like he did last season. This percentage has dropped 5.5 points from 2015 to this season, and his overall swinging strike percentage has also fallen 2.1 percent. It's not a velocity issue -- his fastball is his only pitch with much of a difference from last season and it's down just 1.2 mph -- but perhaps a pitch selection issue.
Archer is throwing his changeup about six percent more this season and his slider about six percent less than in 2015. Perhaps he should go back to his 2015 ways because his changeup is being thrown for a ball 6.27 percent more of the time in 2016 than it was last season, while also being swung at and missed less.
More bad news for Archer are his home and away splits.
There's No Place Like Home
Simply put, he's been excellent at home and horrendous on the road.
It's difficult to find an exact reason as to why Archer has been so much worse on the road. He's throwing about six percent less fastballs when on the road, with the difference being made up with an increase in sliders, perhaps why his swinging strike percentage has dropped 1.67 percent on the road. But that's not enough of a drop-off to make up for the huge change in performance.
His batted ball profile doesn't do much to provide any clarity either.
Archer is allowing significantly more line drives at home, as well as a higher Hard%, which would make sense if his numbers were better on the road than at home. The only difference that helps play into the argument that he pitches better at home this season are the home runs allowed.
His home stadium of Tropicana Field is 18th in ESPN's Park Factors when it comes to home runs allowed, so it's understandable why Archer owns a lower HR/FB ratio there than on the road. However, home runs aren't the only issue.
Archer has allowed a hit 28.4 percent of the time when on the road compared to just 17.1 percent at home. Take Wednesday's loss to the Royals, for example. He allowed eight hits -- six singles, two doubles, no home runs -- yet Kansas City was able to plate five runs. Archer can't keep runners off the bases outside of Tropicana Field and is striking them out significantly less as well -- a bad combo.
Despite impressive strikeout totals, Archer's walks, home runs allowed, inability to get hitters to chase pitches compared to last season, and terrible road splits are what have doomed him this season. As mentioned earlier, his 3.88 SIERA suggests better days are ahead, and our model agrees.
Rest of Season Projections
We project Archer to record a 3.87 ERA, a 23.8 K%, an 8.9 BB%, and a 1.26 WHIP over the remaining course of the season. We also see his home-run percentage falling from it's current 4 percent to 2.6 percent. If he's able to limit his walks and his HR/FB ratio starts to drop -- like our projections suggest -- the Archer of old may soon reappear.