For years it seemed like Chris Archer was the type of arm any team should want to acquire, and Twins fans were of that thinking for a while too. No one wanted him more than the Pittsburgh Pirates piecing out their farm for him, but that’s another story. Fast forward to now and Archer is a few years removed from being healthy, and even further from being effective.
The Twins gave Archer a $3.5 million deal this offseason, but incentives can push that to nearly $10 million. He has a mutual option for 2023, and while those largely go unexercised, both parties have to be proud of where they’re at to this point.
On the season, Archer has made 11 starts for Minnesota, the most among the group. He’s pitched 44 1/3 innings which averages out to just about four innings per start. In a world where lengthy starts are no longer the norm, that number is significantly below the league average. However, for everyone involved, this is definitely by design. As noted, Archer hasn’t pitched more than 119 innings since 2019, and he hasn’t topped 150 innings since 2017. As a guy that routinely gave Tampa Bay 200 or more innings in a season, he’s coming off of surgery to address Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and had plenty of time off prior to that.
As analytically inclined as Archer is, he’s likely a fan of avoiding lineups the third time through. He’s faced lineups twice in each of his 11 starts this season, but made it a third time on just three occasions totaling six plate appearances. The first time through, Archer is allowing a paltry .615 OPS, but that jumps to .828 the second time through the lineup. As a guy who is still trying to build back up in regards to innings, it’s also not surprising that he would wear down as the game goes on.
Minnesota is obviously managing the arm while dancing around danger as well. Archer owns a 3.65 ERA but that’s backed by a 4.92 FIP, 5.10 xFIP, and 5.26 xERA. As someone who’s always given up a healthy amount of homers, Archer has avoided additional damage by shaving from his H/9. Unfortunately, his walk rate and strikeout rate are also at career-worst marks.
Unquestionably the production from Archer was always going to be a process for Minnesota. Pitching coach Wes Johnson needed to help re-establish velocity, and that’s happened with a one mph gain over last season. He’s still not the 95 or 96 mph pitcher he was in his heyday, but sitting just below 94 mph can work with a revamped repertoire. Minnesota has become one of the most slider-reliant teams in baseball, and Archer is using it more than he ever has. A curveball has been reintroduced sparingly, and the fastball has been cut down substantially.
Results aren’t evident of a guy who will again be an ace, and there are plenty of advanced numbers to suggest this could go belly up at any time. However, chase rate trending positive and a hard hit rate lower than anything he’s produced since 2016 are both strong developments. Archer won’t suddenly be some sort of reliable horse for the Twins, but in a season where their pitching staff has largely been in flux, he’s provided a stabilizing presence.
Give it to the Twins for coaching up an arm and teaching an established veteran some new tricks. It’d be positive if the bullpen was stronger when covering for his short outings and ideal if the rotation wasn’t constantly needing him to get it done every five days, but so far things have worked out. If another arm can be added to this group, having Archer provide this value at the bottom of it is hardly a negative.