Chris Archer may be the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays, but he is not quite in that echelon as pitcher. At this point, one has to wonder if he ever will be.
The Tampa Bay Rays have expected Chris Archer to be their next ace, following in the footsteps of David Price and James Shields. He has certainly displayed flashes of that potential, becoming one of the top strikeout pitchers in the American League. And, his durability, where he has made over 30 starts in the past four years, with three seasons of over 200 innings, is certainly valuable.
Yet, for all of the strikeouts and all of his ability, there seems to be something missing with Archer. His career 51-63 record, along with his 3.63 ERA and 1.214 WHiP, do not truly speak towards ace status. His 1044 strikeouts in 967 innings are excellent, as is his career 3.30 K/BB rate, but he just has not taken that step forward that the Rays had hoped for.
As time has gone on, Archer has become a far less diverse pitcher. He initially broke into the majors with five different pitches, although he barely used his curve, which he scrapped after his debut in 2012. His sinker was used heavily, and was actually his most utilized pitch in 2014, but has disappeared since. In theory, armed with a fourseam fastball, a slider, and a change, Archer could succeed.
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However, he has come to rely primarily on his fastball/slider combination. His changeup was used only used 8.15% of the time in 2017, allowing the opposition to sit back on his other two offerings. While opponents only had a .212 batting average against the slider, they hit the fastball to a .280 clip, with a .506 slugging percentage. Both his batting average against on the fastball and slider were the highest of his career.
Having what is essentially a two pitch arsenal works for a reliever. And that fastball/slider combination that Archer has would be devastating in the bullpen. However, as a starter, he would need that viable third pitch. As opponents had a .340 batting average against the change last year, that is not the answer.
Although the questions about Archer’s maturity have quieted down, one has to wonder if he has the mentality to be an ace. Far too often, he seems to get rattled, unable to shut down a rally. Meanwhile, a pitcher like James Shields, who had nowhere near the arsenal, had the mentality to be that front line starter.
In fact, Shields may be a realistic measuring point for what the Rays could get in a trade for Archer. Shields, along with a struggling starter named Wade Davis, netted a return that included Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. It was a decent return, but certainly not what the Rays would expect for Archer’s services.
The problem is that, despite the Rays marketing to the contrary, Archer just is not an ace. He is a very good second starter, and the type of pitcher who has moments when he is nigh on unhittable. But until he develops that third pitch and can consistently step up in those big moments, teams targeting him to front their rotation may be disappointed.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a very good pitcher in Chris Archer. But he is not the ace that he is being marketed as.