Chris Archer broke out last season, throwing more than 200 innings for the first time in his career, posting another ERA in the low 3.00's and adding nearly eight percentage points to his strikeout rate. He finished with 252 total Ks, and after his first start of 2016 it looked like he was on his way to another dynamite season. Sure, he walked three batters and gave up three runs (two earned) and only lasted 5.0 innings (despite throwing 107 pitches), but a dozen strikeouts have a way of distracting attention and the final tally wasn't so bad when considering his hard-hitting opponent that day, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Things went downhill from there.

Game Stats









April 3








April 8








April 14








April 20








He hasn't struck out more than a half-dozen batters since that first start, has failed to record more than 16 outs in any one of his four turns, and though no particular game stands out as egregious, the fact that he is walking multiple batters in every outing is yet another caution flag. Giving up four homers to the Orioles at Camden Yards is merely the exclamation point on Archer's otherwise disappointing stat-line.

One off game is easily excusable, a pair of poor starts is only mildly concerning, but a string of four consecutive clunkers to start the season? That's when the alarms begin to sound. Archer was somewhat erratic last season, in the sense that when things went badly it involved a cascade of runs, hits and walks, but he never had such a long stretch of ineffectiveness last season. His worst performance was in the final month of the 2015 season, including a six-start run of sub-60-point game scores to finish the campaign.

Thing started unraveling in early July of last year, and we see some off-putting trend-lines when splitting his 2015 season into the first 17 starts and the last 17 turns.

Half Season Splits, 2015

























The most glaring discrepancies are with Archer's walk rate and his ERA, while his K count also took a step backwards. The first half of his starts was nothing short of dominant, with a greater than five-to-one ratios of strikeouts to walks and an ERA that would put him among the league leaders in the American League. The second half, on the other hand, was less sanguine, as his K-to-walk rate was nearly cut in half with an ERA that swelled by nearly two full runs-per-nine. The story gets a bit thicker when looking at his release-point data over the course of the year (via Brooks Baseball):

A lower release point can stem from a few different mechanical alterations. The simplest mechanism for a lowered release point is that a pitcher has lowered his angle of shoulder abduction (an increase of abduction would be like raising your hand), which can be a sign of fatigue, and given that Archer typically has a pretty high angle of abduction then a lower angle could potentially have a big impact on his performance. Another explanation could involve posture, in that a pitcher with less spine-tilt (and therefore better posture) will also see his release point lowered. His horizontal release point followed a similar trend, moving further to the right as the arm slot dropped, which is exactly what we would expect from a pitcher who was straightening their spine.

In a vacuum, lower spine-tilt is a good thing, as the improved posture typically results in a deeper release point and improved command. Archer hasn't been playing in a vacuum, though, and in reality there is another element which is leading to his changes in release point

April 2015 (left); September 2015 (right)

You'll notice that both pictures were taken from game feeds at Tropicana Field, which carries an angle that is more or less straightaway from center field. Both pitches were fastballs that were directed down-and-in to left-handed batters, so we have isolated as many elements as possible (while acknowledging that pitcher release points are volatile). The release is a bit higher in the April screen-grab, and is closer to center of the rubber when compared to the screen-shot from September. The key difference, though, from my point of view, is Archer's front foot.

The front foot serves as an indicator for Archer's stride, which was directed more to the left in the April games such that he landed slightly open, with the foot landing to the glove-side of the imaginary centerline that runs from middle rubber to the middle of home plate. The shot from September involves a stride that is directed essentially straight at the plate, with the front foot landing right on top of the centerline, such that his whole body is shifted at this point in the delivery.

Again in a vacuum, striding straight at the plate might be a good thing, but stride direction is dictated by player signature, and as such, the optimal stride direction and front-foot position is dependent on elements that are specific to the pitcher. Some players do better with an open stride, more have a stride that is naturally more closed, but the best coaching paradigm is the one that anchors on the most effective position for each individual player. For Chris Archer, the evidence points to a slightly-open stride as being his best course of action.

So how do things look this season?


Once again, we are looking at an inside fastball against a left-handed batter in Tropicana, in order to isolate as many variables as possible within the confines of this single snapshot. The pics taken are meant to be representative of Archer's trends, and the existence of those trends made the pitches in question very easy to find, but keep in mind that there is fluctuation and one can find a release point with virtually any characteristics.

His vertical release point thus far in 2016 has averaged 6.32 feet on his fastball, which is much more in line with the back-end of 2015 (6.28 feet average across last 17 starts) than it is the more successful first half (it was 6.51 feet of height on the fastball in April 2015). The velocity on his fastball has also been compromised this year, checking in at 94.7 mph thus far in 2016 compared to 96.1 mph last season, and though many pitchers take time to reach peak fastball velocity in-season, the fact that Archer also had a 96.1-mph average fastball when looking at just April of 2015 is concerning.

Archer is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, leaning on the four-seamer and the slider for 91.6-percent of his pitches this season, and the lack of command of his weaker fastball has had a ripple effect that puts Archer in hitter's counts, while his tendency to elevate this season effectively narrows the combination of pitches and locations on which opposing batters are zoning. The right-hander has a very narrow velocity spread between fastball and slider, and this season that spread has narrowed even further, with just a 6.5-mph difference between the average speeds of those two pitches. So batters are triggering within a very narrow velocity band, putting the onus more on the raw location, movement and velocity of Archer's pitches, which have lacked the first and third of those factors this season.

The positioning issue should be relatively simple to solve, but to fix it first requires identification, followed by training to find his ideal release point, and it remains to be seen whether Archer is looking to address any of the elements of positioning within his delivery. I think that command will continue to be an issue until Archer rediscovers the release point of early 2015, but the current trends suggest that he is actually heading the other direction. The velocity issue will not be such an easy fix, and it's possible that Archer doesn't rediscover his 2015 velocity during the 2016 season, so there is reason to be cautious with the right-hander in both the short- and the long-term. If looking for a silver lining, it's worth noting that Archer's average fastball velocity of 95.3 mph in his last start was his highest of the season so far, but he still has a ways to go before realizing last year's pitch-speed.

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What about injury? Could he be changing his mechanics to compensate for weakness or pain in his shoulder? Shoulder = velocity problems. Inconsistent mechanics = walks.

Something lurking?
I don't like playing the game of predicting injuries, as there are just too many unknown variables. In this case, there are other factors which appear to be leading to his struggle, and though the velo is down it hasn't completely cratered. So I'm not ready to say that he's damaged.

Unfortunately for Archer, his next two starts are against the Orioles (today) and the Blue Jays, two legit offenses that could hit him well even if Archer makes positive adjustments. This might cloud his diagnosis in some circles, but I will be watching intently to see if there are indicators of improvement.
Mark Anderson, Jeff Eustoz, Scooter Hotz, Jeff Paternostro, Daniel Rathman
Archer looked better last night to the untrained eye. More velocity, and he seemed to have a little command of the "half-slider" he throws, which he was good at commanding last year.

The extra velocity and some decent changeups kept the Orioles off balance enough that the good big sliders he through out of the zone got some chases.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts Doug if you saw his start.

Also, Gausman looked the best I've seen him until it looked like he got tired at 75 pitches or so.