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Chris Archer - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

From stud to bust to, if you can believe it, sleeper. Chris Archer put together a below-average campaign in 2018 posting a 4.31 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 9.83 K/9. His past few seasons have been disappointing at best as evidenced by his 4.07 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 11.15 K/9 in 2017.

He’s left fantasy owners with much to be desired, but what’s intriguing is that Archer’s underlying stats consistently show better pitching than his ERA would suggest. The re-emergence of his sinker could mean drafting the low-three-ERA Chris Archer of 2013-2015.

Before we get to his sinker, let’s start with the areas that are within his control: strikeouts, walks, and homers.

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What Can Archer Control?

Archer’s K/9 and BB/9 look fairly normal compared to his historical numbers. His K/9 in 2018 was 9.83, or just about what he has typically produced year-to-year. This is evidenced by an average K/9 of 9.47 from 2013-2017. His average BB/9 from 2013-2017 was 2.90 compared to 2.97 in 2018, so within range here as well. Lastly, his HR/FB rate over the past three years (2016-2018) has averaged 14.8% compared to 9.7% in his first three years (2013-2015). This is the biggest change and a decline that is hurting Archer’s stats. Why?

The HR/FB rate could be somewhat correlated to an increase in hard-contact rate. In 2017 and 2018, 39% of balls hit off Archer was considered hit hard, this was an increase from approximately 32% in 2014-2016. However, this doesn’t explain the highest HR/FB rate of his career in 2016 at 16.2% and hard contact of 32.8% in that same year. Although this doesn’t explain the numbers for 2016, we can assume that the increase in hard contact is detracting from Archer’s stat line. Still, from these stats, we can’t say exactly why he’s been crushed in the past two seasons, as the fastball velocity checks out at his normal 95 MPH.

Chris Archer’s xFIP has never risen above 4.00 despite three seasons of a 4+ ERA. Some of this is attributable to his mostly above-average HR/FB rate that has hovered between 14% and 16% in the past three seasons. Some of it is also due to below average defense. Why should we expect a rebound if his underlying stats have not translated into better performance? Because he has done it before. In his exceptional seasons between 2013 and 2015, he managed league average or better HR/FB rates (2013 of 11.7%, 2014 of 6.9%, and 2015 of 10.4%). The decline is mainly due to bad luck, poor defense, and the elimination of his fourth pitch: the sinker.


What's Missing?

From 2015 to most of 2018, Archer has mainly featured a fastball, changeup, and slider. He has been known to have limited offerings which could be having a big impact on his results. The pitch that disappeared in 2015 and re-emerged at about 9% in 2018 was his sinker. He threw the sinker 41.1% of the time in 2014, and not once in 2015. It is likely that this is the pitch that was keeping hitters from jumping on the fastball and slider, which is what replaced the sinker from 2015 on. He mainly continued to throw his changeup between 7% and 11%. To explain the great results in 2015, a simple change in arsenal could have thrown hitters off, and a lower BABIP and home run rate certainly could have been the result.

If Archer can effectively throw a sinker at a high rate in 2019, he could get back to the ace that he was. By having a fourth pitch, hitters will have to adjust, and that could lead to less hard-hit balls and a slide in HR/FB back to league average. At his current NFBC ADP of 134, there’s big upside here as a third or fourth pitcher on your roster.

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