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Chris Archer’s In-Zone Movement is Everything

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the talk surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching staff in 2018 circled around the revival of breaking pitches, designed to get a hitter to chase. But what about when circumstances dictate coming back into the zone or challenge a hitter?

Yesterday, we took a look at how Jameson Taillon went about fooling hitters into swinging and missing at pitches in the zone. Today we’ll do the same for Chris Archer.

First, a quick refresher on how the Pittsburgh Pirates do at a team level in terms of swing and miss in the zone:

In-Zone Whiff Figures

Metric 2018 PIT 2018 RANK 2018 MLB-WIDE AVG/RATE 2018 MLB Leader
Metric 2018 PIT 2018 RANK 2018 MLB-WIDE AVG/RATE 2018 MLB Leader
In-Zone Raw Whiffs 723 19th 765.8 - Average HOU - 1055
In-Zone Whiff Per Swing % 9.2% 22nd 9.86% HOU - 13.9%
In-Zone Fastball Whiff Per Swing % 5.2% 17th 5.19% HOU - 8.4%
In-zone Breaking Whiff Per Swing % 2.6% 17th 2.9% ARI - 5.1%

The Pirates’ Prized Acquisition

On the surface, this snapshot look might not be much of a surprise. Archer had effectively been a two-pitch pitcher for much of his career prior to the Pittsburgh Pirates bringing back his sinker late last season:

Let’s take an aside here. Why did the Pirates decide that Archer needs the sinker again after three years without it? Well, traditional thinking is that it helps to setup a breaking pitch such as, oh I don’t know, a slider. Others dispute this, but it is clear that this is why it was brought back.

Archer certainly had a more-than-capable four-seamer in the zone, with good velocity and spin. His zone map in the graphic above shows some very clear tendencies: Fastballs high, sinkers low, changeup in spots. Pretty simple stuff.

In this way, Archer’s ability to fool hitters in the zone might come down to just how well his slider is moving with any given pitch. 49.4 percent of his 162 total in-zone whiffs came on the slider, and when it’s moving like the one below, Archer should have that level of confidence in it:

Archer’s slider stays static in quite a few measurables, save for when he comes into the zone with it, where he sees a jump in vertical movement:

Archer has historically come into the zone right around 50 percent of the time overall for his career.

If his slider can continue to move as well as it does, he might want to consider doing so more often. Doing so would conceivably allow Archer to play to a couple of evident strengths. The right-hander ranked 25th among MLB SPs with at least 100 innings pitched in First-strike percentage at 62.1 percent. He also ranked 29th among that same group in terms of how often he went into the zone on the first pitch - 55.3 percent of the time.

Archer has the stuff to preclude him from being required to go into the zone — especially at first pitch — but it is fair to ask how much more effective he might be if he attacked a bit more, again if his slider is moving the way it historically has.

Even though he carried a 13.1 percent swinging strike (good for 17th among that qualified MLB SP group), that figure could raise even higher if Archer attacks a bit more.