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  • Twins Getting Solid Work from a Former Ace


    Ted Schwerzler

    We’ve seen the Minnesota Twins dive into the scrap heap when it comes to starting pitching in recent seasons. Last year it was J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker. This year they turned to Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy. Most of it hasn’t worked out, but they are getting a good bit of run from the former Tampa Bay Rays ace.

    Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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    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.

     

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    He has managed to take the ball each time, sure for only about 4 or 5 innings, but he has not been terrible.  If we were to start playoffs tomorrow, he would not be my number one choice that is for sure, but he has added more value than some other guys. 

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    Archer's career numbers.
    ERA
    1st time through = 3.13
    2nd time through = 3.94
    3rd time through = 4.32

    FIP
    1st time through = 3.34
    2nd time through = 3.59
    3rd time through = 4.22

    xFIP
    1st time through = 3.36
    2nd time through = 3.62
    3rd time through = 3.93 

    There is a noticeable drop off between the 2nd and 3rd time through the order, but as you start looking at the TTO's, you start getting into smaller and smaller sample sizes. Archer's xFIP 3rd time through is still better than a lot of middle relievers.

    The whole blanket 3rd time TTO movement is a whole lot of BS as far as I'm concerned. The end of the world is not guaranteed if a guy throwing a good game with a low pitch count goes back out there.

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    8 minutes ago, Trov said:

    He has managed to take the ball each time, sure for only about 4 or 5 innings, but he has not been terrible.  If we were to start playoffs tomorrow, he would not be my number one choice that is for sure, but he has added more value than some other guys. 

    Archer's been on a 4 inning, 80 pitch cap most of the season.

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    I'm pleased. WOuld like to see him pitch deeper. But if we get a full 30 or so starts, I'll settle for upwards of 150 innings for the season. By letting him build up,m it is working to the Twins advantage.

    Maybe the Twins do know what they are doing, running with more bullpen innings when they could carry more bullpen arms, limited all starters to innings so they will be bstronger once the bullpen cuts down to 8.

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    Thanks Ted for bringing this fact to us. An interesting fact I heard was Archer's ERA w/ Jeffers is under 2 (including the LAD & NYY games) while w/ Sanchez it's over 6 and Godoy over 4. I believe Archer's FB still tops out at 95/96 but fades longer he pitches. Archer has 5 pitches - slider, 4sFB, change up, curve and sinker. His FB & slider have been rated as elite (his slider his best) his change up is well above average. Although his change up is inferior to his FB/slider, IMO his change up could be very effective latter in the count as a SO pitch to mix up it up, not in the beginning of the count. I'd love it if Santana could help him to perfect that pitch he could be awsome.

    Archer's production will continue become better, stronger & more efficent he gets. Very happy that he can pitch 5 innings now. But Archer's greatest contribution is not his production but the chemistry and mentorship he provides to the young arms.

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    He's doing pretty well, and I'm pleased with the results and the fact that he seems to be staying healthy. He's become one of my favorite interviews on the team; he's interesting and thoughtful. I could see him being awesome in the booth when he retires. As a back-end starter, he's a solid fit for us I think and I think he's someone who can figure out ways to compete even with lesser stuff than he used to have. And it'd be fine if he's more of a "5 and Fly" guy, if that means he's able to take the ball ever 5th day.

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    With his injury history, the pitching brain trust was smart to limit Archer's pitch count at the beginning of the season.

    He has been a pleasant surprise, especially with our injury/covid/vax issues. I'm not necessarily optimistic about him for the rest of the season, but if he stays healthy and they can stretch him out ... and his progress continues, I can see him as a valuable number four guy.

    I so wish we had a deep rotation, and really hope they can make a deal for a frontline starter from someone out of the race at the trade deadline. 

    At his age and with his history of injury, I'm leery of relying on Archer too much, i.e., as a number three starter, should we make the playoffs.

    But if we could add a front line starter, alongside Gray and Ryan, with Smeltzer, Ober & Winder developing well ...

    I still miss Taylor in the bullpen. (Sigh.) 

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    I'm going to speculate that the velocity on all of his pitches improving from last year has something to do with a mindset that he's only going out there for 4.

    image.png.07d0a38127c3741163f3f7d270cbc65b.png


    It seems like the options are for him to throw 93-94 for 4 innings or 91-92 for 6 innings. Option A gives you a much better chance to win a game, so that appears to be the game plan. I'm fine with this. I'm actually wondering if you start seeing this more often with their scrap heap signings. 

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    On 6/14/2022 at 8:41 AM, Harrison Greeley III said:

    Option A gives you a much better chance to win a game

    Somewhat, but I'm not sure it's as clearcut as you want.  The plan depends on using two more 1-inning arms than you otherwise might, to secure the win, and assuming Archer has a good game and puts you in position to win, now you are counting on neither of the two extra pitchers have a bad hair day.

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    On 6/13/2022 at 12:58 PM, bean5302 said:

    Archer's career numbers.
    ERA
    1st time through = 3.13
    2nd time through = 3.94
    3rd time through = 4.32

    FIP
    1st time through = 3.34
    2nd time through = 3.59
    3rd time through = 4.22

    xFIP
    1st time through = 3.36
    2nd time through = 3.62
    3rd time through = 3.93 

    There is a noticeable drop off between the 2nd and 3rd time through the order, but as you start looking at the TTO's, you start getting into smaller and smaller sample sizes. Archer's xFIP 3rd time through is still better than a lot of middle relievers.

    The whole blanket 3rd time TTO movement is a whole lot of BS as far as I'm concerned. The end of the world is not guaranteed if a guy throwing a good game with a low pitch count goes back out there.

    I would think almost every pitcher shows a drop-off during the second and third times through the lineup. How do Archer's numbers compare with the MLB average?

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    On 6/13/2022 at 10:58 AM, bean5302 said:

    There is a noticeable drop off between the 2nd and 3rd time through the order, but as you start looking at the TTO's, you start getting into smaller and smaller sample sizes.

    I think that's an underappreciated point, but not in the way you probably mean, because of the reason the samples get smaller. 

    Any study of data needs to be on guard for bias in that data.  And here, we have a situation where a guy isn't allowed a second time through the lineup if he's having a truly terrible day (in the first or second inning and gets pulled).  And he certainly doesn't get a third chance through the lineup if the first two trips through were pretty bad.  So the data is biased at each step *toward* the pitcher; and yet, at each step, he does worse.

    It's worse than the raw numbers tell us, IOW.

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    I think Archer has actually been a very important off-season signing, perhaps the third most important after Correa and Gray. We also have to keep in mind that he will not be a 6 to 7 inning starter at any point this year or perhaps ever again. He is really more of a classic #4/5 starter, go in expecting 4-5 innings and hoping for 6, knowing the chances of any more than a 6 innings are very small and that he if he goes out for the sixth inning you go get them as soon as there's any hint of trouble. There is real value to that role and very real value to that role for this year's Twins team.

    Now that Smeltzer is getting banged around a bit once teams had a chance to see him or get good film on him, I'm wondering if he and Archer can be a piggyback tandem once Ober gets back and reclaims the #3 spot in the rotation. Winder can be the other starter when he gets back or maybe we can trade for a starter that isn't going to be incredibly expensive like Marquez, Hendricks, or even Jose Quintana. I don't think were going to be willing to pay the freight for a Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas. I wonder if a package of Larnach plus an A ball pitcher could get us David Bednar, José Quintana, and Zach Thompson from Pittsburg....

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    2 hours ago, ashbury said:

    I think that's an underappreciated point, but not in the way you probably mean, because of the reason the samples get smaller. 

    Any study of data needs to be on guard for bias in that data.  And here, we have a situation where a guy isn't allowed a second time through the lineup if he's having a truly terrible day (in the first or second inning and gets pulled).  And he certainly doesn't get a third chance through the lineup if the first two trips through were pretty bad.  So the data is biased at each step *toward* the pitcher; and yet, at each step, he does worse.

    It's worse than the raw numbers tell us, IOW.

    In the way I mean? As in, it's tough to get reliable data from small sample sizes for specific players. Keeping in mind, nobody cares if a pitcher gets worse. If the pitcher has a 0.00 ERA/FIP in the 1st TTO, it's not relevant if their ERA is 1.00 the 2nd time or 3.00 the third time. They're still better than the alternative (middle reliever.)

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    5 hours ago, bean5302 said:

    In the way I mean? As in, it's tough to get reliable data from small sample sizes for specific players. Keeping in mind, nobody cares if a pitcher gets worse. If the pitcher has a 0.00 ERA/FIP in the 1st TTO, it's not relevant if their ERA is 1.00 the 2nd time or 3.00 the third time. They're still better than the alternative (middle reliever.)

    Small samples for individual pitchers, but league-wide the samples are large enough - yet still carry the same fundamental problem of bias each time through the lineup.

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    16 hours ago, ashbury said:

    Small samples for individual pitchers, but league-wide the samples are large enough - yet still carry the same fundamental problem of bias each time through the lineup.

    League-wide does not apply to each individual pitcher. Some pitchers have vastly different performances than the average. Also, when it comes to the 2nd vs. 3rd time through the order on a league-wide basis, the difference in performance is pretty small.

    2022 League  xFIP
    = 3.61 median 1st time
    = 4.03 median 2nd time
    = 4.08 median 3rd time

    This has been the case in every previous year I've looked as well. If the goal is to protect the scoreboard or the pitcher from giving up runs, they should be pulled after the first time through the order. Essentially, there should be no starting pitchers in the game.

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