Welcome to episode 12 of the Pirates Playoff Projections series! The final episode!!
If you read my intro to the Bucs Dugout site back in July, you’ll remember that I’m a big fantasy baseball fan, which makes me a bit of a numbers/projections guy at times. I still use the eye test plenty to help me find players I like, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Pirates baseball game with the emotional interest of a lifelong fan, but I love the statisical, fantasy side of the game as well.
With that in mind, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to start projecting what key Pirates players will need to do in 2020 if the Bucs are going to shock the league and end up in the playoffs come October. I know, I know, it’s a stretch based on the season we all just witnessed. But with a new manager and staff in place, I figured it’s a good time for some optimism.
Each week I’ll pick a player and go through what their 2020 season might look like under the assumption that they’re able to help lead the black and gold to their first playoff appearance since 2015.
Note from the author: With this being the final episode in the series, I want to thank you all for following along, especially those who commented with their opinions on the projections (good or bad). It’s been a fun little project, and it got us through to January when legitimate stories and look-aheads can really start happening. Hopefully you all enjoyed my work at least a little bit. Let’s go Bucs!!
Well, I waited as long as I could to tackle this one.
I knew as soon as I started this series that the Chris Archer episode would be the most difficult piece to write. There were a few reasons for that. For one, there was so much hype surrounding the acquisition of Archer, followed by immediate disappointment and regret. That makes projecting him difficult because it’s easy to become too polarized and turn into either a depressed Pirates fan or a hopeless, unrealistic optimist. Secondly, I wanted to wait on Archer because I thought there was a greater than zero chance that the new management would want to test him out of the bullpen. I suppose that’s still a possibility, but we haven’t heard any rumblings yet, so I suppose it’s time I take this on assuming he’ll get another crack in the starting rotation in 2020.
If you want one more reason why this particular article is difficult, it’s because Archer is one of the most enjoyable players to root for that I’ve ever come across. When he’s playing well, his emotions on the mound and with his teammates are nearly unmatched. And off the field he’s always running clinics, helping out the community, taking pictures, and signing autographs. He was that way in Tampa, and it seems he’s even more of that great guy in Pittsburgh. That makes fans REALLY want success for a guy like that, and I won’t lie and say I’m not one of them.
Regardless, we have to try to put those things aside and be realistic about what to expect from a player for whom the Pirates traded a now top-15 starting pitcher, a young, high-upside outfielder, and a prospect with plenty of promise. It’s tough. But let’s take a look at the high points of last season and try to come up with an optimistic approach to how Chris Archer could help lead the Bucs to a playoff spot in 2020.
I’ll keep this shorter than usual, one because I’ve already rambled plenty above and two because I think we all know what Archer needs to focus on most to find success again: Keep the ball in the yard.
The one positive to looking at the home run numbers from 2019 is that the 20.2% HR/FB rate has to come down. I know that the balls being juiced as something to do with that, but Archer sat at 14%, 14%, 16%, and 10% in all the years prior. And those numbers include time in the AL East against very good offenses. We could go into all sorts of numbers about Archer’s pitch selection and whether or not the use of his sinker was his downfall (I think it had a lot to do with the failure, for the record), but the point stands that he has to be lower than 15% HR/FB rate this season if he wants any chance of sticking around as a starting pitcher in the majors.
Archer’s strikeout rate rose nicely at the end of 2019, and that will need to stick around the 10 K/9 mark, especially if the balls will remain juiced. If use of the four-seam fastball can create less walks, more swings and misses, and a few less homers, then let’s just hope the new pitching staff works with “Arch” to make sure he’s using his strengths not conforming to a systematic idea that will doom him.
All right, let’s see if I can be realistically optimistic in these numbers. It may not surprise you, but I’m going to predict a bit of a bounce-back from the big name Pirates acquisition. Wouldn’t it be great to see this at least pan out a little?! Without further ado, here’s my final Pirates Playoff Projection of the offseason...
Chris Archer 2020:
29 games started
11-10 record (8 no-decisions)
172 innings pitched, 195 strikeouts (10.20 K/9)
4.08 ERA and 1.31 WHIP
What do YOU think? Give me some over, under, or just rights down in the comments below. I’m also always happy to hear your thoughts on more in-depth statistics like HR/FB, xFIP, BABIP, and more. Hope you’re all having a good offseason so far and you enjoyed this series. As always, Let’s go Bucs!