The Unhittable Chris Archer

A little over a month ago, Owen Watson wrote a piece here entitled “Chris Archer and His Elite Slider, and in the piece, he noted that Archer had ramped up the usage of his off-speed stuff this year, throwing it 40% of the time in the first month of the season. In that piece, Watson also noted that Archer was throwing his slider harder than he had in previous years. A few paragraphs from his piece:
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Archer is throwing both his fastball and slider harder than ever in 2015, with his slider in particular up a full MPH over last season. Again, it’s early, but velocity gains in the first few weeks of April are a little surprising, and not unpleasantly so. We now have have a trifecta of pitch usage for Archer’s slider so far this season: noticeable uptick in usage, reliance on the pitch as a main weapon (Archer has actually thrown more sliders than fastballs this season), and finally, velocity gain.

That combination works well when you have a fastball as good as Archer’s. The movement profile of Archer’s slider in 2015 is similar to 2014, though he has taken about an inch of vertical drop off of the pitch. His horizontal release point has shifted a few inches, so the slider looks a little tighter and closer to the movement of his fastball to my eyes. The main point we should focus on is this, however: he’s throwing it harder and way more often. Here’s what his slider looks like this year:

Chris_Archer_Slider_2015

At the end of April, Archer was looking like a guy who might be taking a real step forward, as his slider was now sitting 87-88, and the improvement in his primary out-pitch had allowed him to boost his strikeout rate up to around 30%.

Well, here’s what Archer has done since Watson published that piece.

51 IP, 41 H, 14 BB, 71 K, 2.49 ERA, 1.91 FIP, 2.08 xFIP

His last three starts, in particular, have been particularly absurd.

23 IP, 14 H, 0 BB, 38 K, 0.39 ERA, 0.37 FIP, 0.72 xFIP

Over those last three starts, Archer has run a 46% strikeout rate; for comparison, Craig Kimbrel’s career strikeout rate is 44%. So Archer has basically pitched like a strike-throwing, peak-level Craig Kimbrel who could pitch 7-8 innings at a time. And he’s done it almost entirely by ramping up his slider to even new levels.

That extra velocity that showed up in April has proven to be just a rung in the ladder, and Archer is still climbing. Here are his slider velocities by month, via Brooks Baseball.

Brooksbaseball-Chart

In June, Archer’s slider is averaging 90 mph. He’s throwing it 42% of the time, and 53% of the the swings against his slider have ended with a whiff. This is basically an unhittable pitch, and maybe one of the very best pitches anyone in baseball throws. David Price, noted for being pretty good at this whole pitching thing himself, thinks it’s the very best pitch in baseball.

When challenged, he even doubled-down on his claim.

Jeff Sullivan has written many an opus about Felix’s change-up before, because it’s just an absurdly unfair pitch. When most guys are throwing their change-ups in the low-80s, Felix throws his at about the same velocity as an average two-seam fastball, only it dives like a splitter. Well, now, you could basically describe Chris Archer’s slider the same way.

To right-handers, he’s still getting some horizontal movement, starting on the outer half of the plate and then diving away from them, but against left-handers, he’s figured out how to throw it like a very hard curveball. This is exactly what Price is talking about when he says “curveball movement”. Archer’s slider against lefties is essentially a power curveball, and it’s become a dominant pitch against opposite-handed hitters. Archer has thrown 231 sliders against LHBs this year, and he’s getting whiffs on 40% of the swings it generates, plus grounders on 58% of the rare times a lefty manages to put it in play.

Last week, I wrote about Gerrit Cole and Making the Leap, noting that he’d figured out how to eliminate his platoon problem by using a vertical slider as his out-pitch against lefties. Archer is basically doing the exact same thing, and both have combined high-velocity fastballs with devastating sliders to become legitimate #1 starters while only really throwing two pitches.

For years, we’ve heard that you need three pitches to be an effective big league starter, and in most cases, that’s held true. Historically, starters have leaned on a slider or two-seam fastball to shut down same-handed hitters, and then needed a curveball, change-up, or splitter to go after opposite-handed hitters; without that second off-speed pitch, they probably ran big platoon splits or ended up in the bullpen.

But now, we have guys like Archer and Cole throwing “sliders” that are just as effective against lefties as they are against righties. The reality is that it’s never really been about how many pitches you throw, but about whether a starter has a weapon that can get hitters out from both sides of the plate. The first years of Archer’s career, he destroyed right-handers and just kind of survived against lefties. This year, lefties are hitting .198/.235/.265 against him.

Good luck, American League hitters. I don’t know how you’re supposed to hit this. Chris Archer doesn’t just look like a good young starter anymore; he now looks like a legitimate ace.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth

Jesus, that’s pretty.

Yirmiyahu
Member

Definitely an awesome pitch. But I’m confused by one part:

“To right-handers, he’s still getting some horizontal movement, starting on the outer half of the plate and then diving away from them, but against left-handers, he’s figured out how to throw it like a very hard curveball. This is exactly what Price is talking about when he says “curveball movement”. Archer’s slider against lefties is essentially a power curveball, and it’s become a dominant pitch against opposite-handed hitters.”

A slider is usually not a very useful pitch against opposite-handed batters. Other than the ridiculous velocity, is Archer doing anything unique with his slider? Is he using it vs lefties differently than he is vs righties? Or is it a simple matter that the pitch is so good, it works against anyone?

saint
Guest
saint

Yeah he’s making it drop vertically with very little horizontal movement. Sliders usually break towards opposite handed batters.