The Key to Potentially Unlocking Chris Archer
The veteran hurler has shown promise in small spurts -- could that be indicative of success in a different role?
Chris Archer is slated to face the Detroit Tigers in the series finale on Thursday afternoon.
To call Archer’s brief Twins tenure a rollercoaster would be more than fair. His 4.19 ERA is backed by a 5.30 ERA, 5.21 FIP and 4.95 xFIP. His peripherals are a mish-mash of meh: 7.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.57 HR/9 and a groundball rate of 36.1 percent.
If things were different, it’s possible Archer would be operating out of a different role right now. But Joe Ryan, Josh Winder and Chris Paddack are all on the injured list while Sonny Gray has dealt with hamstring and pec issues, leaving the Twins scrambling for capable starters as they look to maintain their strong start.
Only Paddack’s absence of that trio should be a long-term thing. But curiously, Archer is the only Twins starter to take each of his nine trips through the rotation, with Dylan Bundy and Ryan both making eight.
Archer as the durable one of the lot is a curious distinction considering he missed the entire pandemic-shortened 2020 season recovering from thoracic outlet surgery — a procedure that is typically the death knell for pitchers, as it was for former Twin Phil Hughes.
In general, it’s just difficult for pitchers to get back what they lost stuff-wise with the injury.
Archer made it back in his old stomping grounds with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, and pitched respectably in five starts (six appearances) with a 4.66 ERA (4.26 FIP), more than a strikeout per inning and a 1.35 WHIP — but in just 19.1 innings.
Just a shade under 20 innings for five starts plus a relief appearance isn’t exactly going to make anyone blush; not even with how the Twins handled Bailey Ober with kid gloves for the bulk of last season.
And to call Archer the “durable” one feels a little duplicitous. He’s made those starts but totaled just 34.1 total innings.
Among MLB starters with at least 30 innings pitched, Archer has the second-fewest innings per start (3.81), trailing only Baltimore’s Spenser Watkins (3.75).
This wouldn’t automatically be a disqualifier if we considered the Twins and their openness to trying different things with starting pitchers. But typically with that territory comes using a pitcher with markedly better peripherals than Archer’s at this moment.
Using Archer as an opener, of sorts, wouldn’t be the worst idea. He could be paired with someone like Devin Smeltzer, a softer-tossing lefty, for the perfect mix of contrast.
But is there enough in Archer’s splits to suggest he’d be more valuable in a shorter role? We’ve already seen the Twins become comfortable with multi-inning relief appearances from guys like Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to add another pitcher into that mix?
Well, let’s look into the splits.
There isn’t a ton of divergence in Archer’s splits against handedness (.808 OPS vs. RHB/.741 vs. LHB) or location (.791 at home/.768 on road).
In the first inning of starts this season — in other words, nine starts/nine innings — Archer has allowed just two earned runs on eight hits. Opposing batters have hit him at a .229/.325/.457 clip — which in this run environment isn’t particularly good.
But it’s just nine innings, so we can’t draw conclusions from only that.
As far as times through the order, Archer — like most pitchers — suffers when he sees a lineup multiple times in a game.
And that hasn’t necessarily been as much of an issue, at least not in terms of the “third time through the order” penalty we see with guys like Jake Odorizzi in the past. Archer has only faced four batters a third time this season, and they’re 1-for-2 with a double and two walks.
This isn’t surprising for a guy who has pitched into the fifth inning just once all season.
The first time Archer sees hitters, they’re slashing .203/.259/.405. That’s something you can work with.
The second time, however, the line jumps to .283/.377/.500. That’s…troubling.
Shortening up Archer’s outings would also allow him to pare down his repertoire. The velocity on his fastball is fine — 93.6 mph average, 96.4 mph peak — but it has, unsurprisingly, been hit hard with a staggering .405/.463/.811 slash.
Archer has thrown a ton of sliders this season — 290 against just 250 fastballs — and opponents are hitting just .192/.286/.356 against it. He’s also flashed a changeup from time to time (.341 OPS against) that could be useful in shorter bursts.
He’s already scrapped a sinker he threw a lot more earlier in his career, so maybe it’s hard to pare down a repertoire that’s more or less just two pitches.
But the easy solution would be to suggest he just “throw the slider more” based on the numbers. That’s easy enough to suggest, but would be like making the cake entirely out of icing.
It’s just not feasible unless Archer is working, again, in shorter stints. Turning him into the new Matt Wisler, while not the ideal usage the Twins envisioned coming out of spring training, does look like it could work. His slider has a swinging-strike rate of 19.0 percent over his career and 14.8 percent this season. His changeup, for what it’s worth, has a swinging-strike rate of 13.2 percent which is almost identical to his career rate (13.3 percent).
Bringing back the sinker — though he last threw it in 2019 — and becoming a sinker-slider guy out of the pen would have some merit as well. The sinker has induced a 52.2 percent groundball rate for Archer over his career, which would be a good way to mitigate his recent home run issues.
Becoming a slider first, sinker second and a changeup here and there sort of reliever really, truly seems like it could work for Archer.
Now, the Twins just have to get healthy enough in the rotation to justify moving him out of it.