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.