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Re-Imagining Chris Archer As A Dominant Reliever

Starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

But what do you do when a starting pitcher has good stuff but is just not getting the desired results' That’s the issue at hand with Chris Archer this season. Archer has the components you want in a great starting pitcher, but his inability to get deep into games due to inefficient pitch counts and his generosity in supplying people behind the outfield fences with souvenirs to take home has hurt him this year.

But that slider…

Isolating just his slider this year, Chris Archer has a K% of 36.3% and an overall whiff rate of 42.2%. Those are elite levels of swings and misses. Here’s the view of all of his pitches this year. Please take a moment to marvel at his two-seam sinker and now remember it took Archer and Jacob Stallings to decide on their own to have him stop throwing it.

Prior to exiting Tuesday’s game with shoulder discomfort and landing on the 10-day IL, Archer was having a turnaround in August in a small sample of three starts. His August K% of 35.5% and BB% of 5.3% are amazing. As long as the shoulder injury doesn’t involve the words ‘labrum’ or ‘surgery’, I would have been very comfortable bringing Archer back in 2020 on his affordable $9M option.

But lately I’ve been wondering what Archer would look like as a 2-inning reliever. If Archer could strip his pitch mix down to Slider, Four Seam, and Change, in that order of usage, he could be a devastating option out of the bullpen and cover the 7th and 8th innings some nights, with his primary focus being the 8th inning setup role.

Now I know what you’re thinking. It could be a bunch of things, so let’s go through them one at a time:

  • “Wait, Archer sucks.” — Not true. He’s just miscast and misused. Sadly, he’s not the front of the rotation ‘prince that was promised’. But he can be re-purposed into a good mid-rotation starter or, as explained here, an intriguing reliever.
  • “But Glasnow and Meadows…” — I’ll just stop you right there. In the words of Ice Bear, they gone.
  • “With Taillon out next year, can the Pirates afford to move Archer out of the rotation?” — This is a valid question. But let’s presume that Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, and Mitch Keller will be in the rotation. Chad Kuhl will be back from Tommy John (and may be a good bullpen candidate himself). This means the Pirates just would need to find one starter in trade or free agency.
  • “$9 million is a lot for a reliever.” — For the rest of baseball, it’s not. I know that’s ‘Pirate-expensive’, but I think his production would justify it.

What would be interesting to me is if Archer does have an injury that would require surgery. His 2020 team option has a $1.75M buyout, so what if the Pirates were to propose a 2-year deal to Archer that would pay him to rehab in 2020 and then come back in 2021' Essentially, they would agree beforehand with Archer that they would deny the option, pay him the $1.75M buyout, then re-sign him to a 2 year deal. The first year would be for $750,000 and the second year would be for $9M. So Archer would get $2.5M total to go full Chisenhall in 2020 and then come back in 2021 at the same price he would have been in 2020 under his original option.

Trying to keep a square peg in a round hole is just not working for the Pirates and Archer. He’s smart enough and self-aware enough to realize that a move to the bullpen could completely re-invigorate his career.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

4 Comments on Re-Imagining Chris Archer As A Dominant Reliever

  1. I would suggest there are couple more variables to address concerning Archer’s future. First, the direction the club will be taking in 2020/2021; if the club finally realizes that it is time to start the rebuild, Archer’s primary value going forward would be as a trade chip, and all things being equal, his value is probably greater on the trade market as a starter. Second, Archer is relatively young and relatively healthy, and he is probably thinking he can score on more big contract, so he and his representation may not look kindly on moving into a setup role.

    There are a lot of moving parts in terms of where Archer and the Pirates are going forward, and I would not argue that Archer could be very successful in such a role. Whether the Pirates–and, just as importantly, whether Archer–see that as being his best role going forward is an open question.

  2. Phillip C-137 // August 22, 2019 at 3:06 PM // Reply

    With Cervelli having just been given his unconditional release, you mentioning Chisenhall and Archer’s juxtaposition of $9 million team option and possible surgery – all of this makes me wonder do teams have some sort of probability charts on “After Injury” for the various types of injury.

    You recently addressed Tommy John surgery, but what about all of the other injuries? Chisenhall, like Tulowitzki had leg issue after leg issue and couldn’t stay on the field. Cervelli had concussions over and over and I question if he is even insurable as a catcher anymore, much less playable.

    Now Archer. Hopefully he doesn’t need surgery and turning him into a 2002 John Smoltz is a good idea. But if he does need some sort of surgery, I’d sure look into how others have done after that type of surgery.

    And with the Pirates low budget (self imposed), throwing Chisenhall’s $2.75 mil (3.68% of the Opening Day Payroll) in the landfill is a blow. So guaranteeing a surgery needing Archer $11.5 mil over the next 2 seasons looks VERY questionable to me.

    • Kevin Creagh // August 22, 2019 at 7:39 PM // Reply

      I imagine they have a feel for a whole range of surgeries (TJ, Labrum, Hamate, ACL) but muscle issues are probably still a grey area (Chisenhall’s calf).

  3. I've been beating this drum to death, he is not a good MLB starter. Trying him in the pen was a solution for the rest of the season, but then IL happened. Declining the option is the only step left imo.

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