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Chris Archer: Fantasy Baseball Year-in-Review

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chris Archer came into the 2018 season with the Tampa Bay Rays as a known commodity of a strikeout pitcher. Archer, who had pitched at least 200 innings in each season from 2015-2017, topped 200 strikeouts in each of those seasons as well. He was lacking in wins, 12 in 2015 is a career-high, and his ERA rose in each season, but the promise for strikeouts made him a decent SP3-type. Plus, while his ERA was 4.07 in 2017, his FIP was only 3.40 and he struck out 11.1 per nine.

While Archer came into the season as the Rays ace, he ended the season as a big disappointment on the Pirates. Abdominal and leg injuries saw Archer throw 148 1/3 innings (his lowest tally since 2013) and he posted career-worst marks in ERA (4.31) and WHIP (1.38). Many hoped that moving from the cauldron that is the AL East would help Archer at midseason, but his ERA was 4.31 in 96 innings in Tampa and was basically matched by his 4.30 ERA in 52 1/3 innings for the Buccos. In fact, his FIP even worsened with the move (3.62 to 4.00), wrapping up a 6-8 season on a low light.

Heading into 2019 with a full season in a new league, can Chris Archer put a 57-71 career record and poor 2018 season in the past?

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Can Archer Bounceback in 2019?

As noted at the end of the last paragraph, Archer is 14 games under .500 for his career, odd for a two-time All-Star that finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year race in 2013 and fifth in the Cy Young race in 2015. Much of that comes from a 9-19 record in 2016, but it is still odd to see a pitcher of Archer's caliber on the wrong side of so many decisions. Only in double-digit wins in three of his six seasons, fantasy owners will hope that the move to Pittsburgh leads to more wins.

The only reason to own Archer last season was for strikeouts and, while he struck out 162 batters in 148 1/3, his K/9 dropped from 11.1 in 2017 to last season. He struck out more batters when he moved to Pittsburgh (60 in 52 1/3 innings), but it was still a bit disappointing to see his strikeout totals dip after three years over 10+ strikeouts per nine. Even still, Archer has come a long way from the pitcher that struck out 274 batters in 323 1/3 innings in 2013-2014 and now is a safe strikeout option going forward. Mentioning Archer's 2013-2014 seasons, though, that represented the best ERA in a two-year period of his young career (3.28). It is a bit disappointing that Archer has regressed a bit, but the strikeouts do outweigh the higher ERA.

A negative trend for Archer is that his hits per nine allowed have risen in each of the last four seasons, going from 7.4 in 2015 to 9.4 this season. Not surprisingly, Archer's BABIP has also risen in the accompanying seasons, going from .295 in 2015 to .338 this season. Just to make sure that all of the negative trends line up, Archer's hard hit ball rate has risen in each of the last four seasons (actually in each season since 2013)  and he allowed a career-worst 23% line drive rate in 2018. There was a bit of a rise in his ground ball rate year over year (from 42% in 2017 to 44.6% in 2018), but each of those tallies were far from his 47.8% ground ball rate in 2016. Staying with the theme, Archer is still a good source of strikeouts, as his swinging strike rate of 13.1% was 15th in baseball among those with 130 IP.

Looking at Archer and his 2019 prospects, a key thing to look at is the change of scenery. First, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are each pitchers' ballparks, but PNC Park is a bit better than the Trop, both at suppressing runs scored and homers. Also positive for Archer is that he no longer has to pitch in hitter's havens in the AL East (Yankees Stadium, Rogers Centre, and Oriole Park were all top-10 in HR factor last season), but he does have to deal with Great American Ballpark (1st in HR factor and 4th in run factor) and Miller Park (10th in homers and 15th in runs) next season. It looks like Archer is a safe bet for 200 strikeouts if healthy, but issues with hard hit ball rate trends have us bearish on him next season. He is pitching in a better ballpark, marginally, but there is a strong chance that he continues to have an ERA near 3.75 and a WHIP near 1.25.

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