For the fantasy owners who drafted Chris Archer back in March, the answer to the question posed in the title is likely quite simple: no, he can’t be trusted. And, well, it’s difficult to argue against the fact that he has been disappointing this season. His earned run average has jumped nearly a full run from last year (3.23 to 4.18), and his 7-16 win-loss record looks like it came directly off of the back of Steve Trachsel’s baseball card. The only thing that seemingly hasn’t changed is his propensity to strike hitters out at an elite rate (his 10.66 K/9 is the 7th highest rate among qualified starting pitchers). Other than the strikeouts, everything else appears to have regressed. So what’s going on with Archer? Can he turn things around or was 2015 just a career year?

Let’s take a look at Archer’s profile to determine what can be expected from him moving forward. Here are a few thoughts and observations:

It’s been a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, Archer did his best Robbie Ray impersonation, stumbling to a 4-12 record with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 19 starts. In the second half, he’s produced a 3-4 record with a 3.06 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in 7 starts. A big reason for these superior results is that…

He’s reduced his walk rate by 61%. Archer’s first half walk rate was a bloated 3.93 BB/9, which helped to contribute to those mediocre ratios that I mentioned in the above blurb. In the second half, he’s cut his walk rate down to 1.53 BB/9, which is the 17th lowest rate among 103 qualifiers. That’s a good way to improve one’s ratios quickly, but how did he achieve such a drastic turnaround in the walk category? A significant change that he has been able to make is to…

Get ahead of hitters more often. Archer’s 56.0% F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage) in the first half was the 11th lowest such rate amongst MLB starting pitchers. He’s improved that number to 61.1% in the second half, which equates to a 5.1% increase. Getting ahead of hitters more often has allowed him to stay out of fastball counts and utilize his wipeout slider (.572 OPS against; 19.5% SwStr%) more frequently. Controlling the count has also caused hitters to…

Swing at more pitches outside of the strike zone. Hitters facing Archer swung at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%) at a 28.0% rate during the first half. That number has increased 8.9% to 36.9% over his seven second half starts. After falling behind in the count, opponents haven’t been able to sit on Archer’s fastball as often and have expanded the zone against his slider at a much higher clip. While Archer’s overall strikeout rate is virtually identical when comparing the seasonal splits, his swinging strike rate has increased 2.3%, from 11.4% to 13.7%. This expansion of the strike zone against Archer has resulted in…

An overall decline in quality of contact. Archer has reduced his home run rate significantly from a 1.47 HR/9 in the first half to a 0.96 HR/9 in the second. There’s also been a 2.8% decrease in hard hit percentage, and subsequent 60 and 54 point drops in BABIP and batting average against respectively.

Bottom line: Archer’s early struggles were mostly a result of control issues more than anything else. Falling behind in counts led to more baserunners and hitters sitting on fastballs in those favorable counts, rendering his dominant slider ineffective. The stuff is still there, as is evidenced by his elite strikeout and swinging strike rates. Getting ahead in more counts has allowed him to limit the walks and utilize his dominant slider more effectively during the second half of the season. Archer is back to being the fantasy ace that he was last season, so if his owner has soured on him based on his early struggles (and your trade deadline hasn’t passed yet), now is a good time to buy.

Final Verdict:

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  1. David says:
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    Phelps or Skaggs ROS? Thanks

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @David: In shallow mixed leagues, they’re both streamers, so I’d play the matchups. Skaggs is at Toronto next, and Phelps is at Pittsburgh (followed by San Diego at home), so I’d go with Phelps.

  2. G says:
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    Would you drop Duvall who is one of my two bench bats who’s went cold and recovering from injury, Rondon, or Iglesias for Felipe Rivero to give me a boost in holds?

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @G: I’d definitely hang onto Rondon in a holds league, and Iglesias has been lights out recently (though his team might limit his hold opportunities). Could drop Duvall for Rivero if he’s just wasting away on your bench.

  3. Ralph Lifshitz

    Ralph Lifshitz says:
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    Great stuff as usual Magoo, big fan of Archer as a bounce back candidate this only cements it for me.

    What are your thoughts on David Price for 2017? Are you concerned, after his velocity decreased again? He’s also throwing the fastball less and the cutter more, for what it’s worth.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Ralph Lifshitz: Thanks, Ralph! I’m not too concerned about Price’s decreased velocity. He’s about to turn 31 and he’s thrown a ton of innings over the past 7-8 years, so I think that the velo drop is mostly due to a combo of those things. His control is still top notch and he has one of the best changeups in the game. He can’t get away with mistakes the way he used to though. which is probably why his HR rate has spiked. Well, that and Fenway. He’s probably more of an SP2 in fantasy instead of an ace at this point though.

  4. jb says:
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    What about Drew Smyly? I’ve kept my eye on him and he’s rising again. I’d have to drop someone like Jaime Garcia.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @jb: Yeah, I’d lose Garcia for Smyly. Smyly’s looked good in recent weeks and Garcia’s floor isn’t what I expected it to be.

      • jb says:
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        I p/u Garcia based on observation and what his manager said. Yet, his last W had repercussions despite the W. Rather go analytics, but I don’t always have time to grind it out. I’ll prolly p/u Smyly in half the leagues I own Garcia in order to diversify. Thanks!

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @jb: No problem

  5. Odor's Odor-izzi spray says:
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    Any interest in doing one of these columns on the Houdini act that Paul Goldschmidt’s power game has pulled this year? Obviously still an elite 5 category contributor, but those homers are just not there this year. OPS still good, but down ~85 points from last year. Would have guessed his speed would dry up before the power did. Think he’s just a power surge from attaining last year’s numbers, or is this actually indicative of what we can expect from him the next couple years?

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Odor’s Odor-izzi spray: Goldy’s traded some flyballs for grounders and his pop-up rate is higher too. Other than that, he looks pretty much the same. I’m surprised that he hasn’t slowed down on the basepaths too.

      • goodfold2 says:
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        @Big Magoo: he seems too young to not be able to bounce back on the pop ups and ground rate though.

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