Sinker driving Chris Archer's success

Chris Archer's sinker has become a weapon. (USATSI)
Chris Archer's sinker has become a weapon. (USATSI)

Rays pitcher Chris Archer isn't having trouble with the long ball anymore. Over his first 150+ innings in the majors, one of the things that prevented Archer from emerging as a consistent option in the rotation was his propensity to give up home runs. While he wasn't an extreme home run guy like Bronson Arroyo, Archer allowed 18 home runs over his first 158 innings. Through 86 innings in 2014, he's allowed just three home runs. 

Home run rate is typically an area where career-rates win out. If a guy is strongly over or under performing their career home run rate, we expect them to regress. Archer does fit into that category. After posting a home run rate above 11 percent in 2012 and 2013, Archer has knocked that figure down to 4.2 percent in 2014. 

His current rate likely isn't sustainable, but that's fine. Few pitchers are able to prevent home runs at this rate, so regression is expected. In Archer's case, even a minor improvement with his home run numbers would help him improve as a pitcher. That still seems fairly attainable.

One of the reasons for that is Archer's reliance on his sinker this season. He's throwing the pitch 42.61 percent of the time this year, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Last season, Archer used his sinker 17.60 percent of the time. His ground ball rate, which has always been solid, has jumped to a career-high 48.8 percent this year. 

A close look at his batted ball profile confirms he's not giving up as many fly balls this season either. His 29.3 fly ball rate is the lowest of his career. Some of that is due to a heightened ground ball rate, the other portion of those big flys have turned into line drives. While line drives will fall in for hits more often, they don't leave the park as often as fly balls.

On top of that, he's been much more effective against lefties this season. Part of Archer's home run trouble in the past has been due to lefties teeing off against him. In 2013, 13 of Archer's 15 home runs came off left-handed batters. He's yet to allow a home run to a lefty in 49 2/3 innings this year. 

Again, the sinker is to blame. Archer has focused on using a two-pitch mix against left-handers this year. He's throwing mostly sinkers and slider, occasionally mixing in a four-seam fastball. Instead of relying on his slider for strikeouts, which he had done in the past, Archer has been content to throw lefties the sinker in two-strike counts. Last season, lefties hit just .210 against Archer's sinker, but also hit five home runs against the pitch. With the sinker, he's limited lefties to a .196 average this year. That number may not be sustainable over a full season, but it does appear Archer has a better approach against left handed hitters.

The age-25 breakout seems legitimate here. Archer has altered his repertoire in order to get past some of his former issues. While regression is certainly possible, both with his home runs and success against lefties, it looks like he's doing enough to still turn in a strong season. Owners who were wise to hold onto Archer during an average stretch at the beginning of the season are starting to reap the rewards in a big way.

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