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Chris Archer Finally Gets The Call

Coming into the season, right-hander Chris Archer was widely considered the Tampa Bay Rays’ best pitching prospect. Our own Marc Hulet ranked him the Rays’ second-best prospect overall. So when the Rays announced he was getting promoted and would start against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, many fantasy owners jumped on the waiver wire and submitted claims for Archer.

The excitement makes sense. The 24-year-old features a dynamite fastball-slider combination on the mound and has struck out at least a batter per inning in the last two seasons. In fact, Archer appeared in six big-league games a year ago and compiled an 11.05 K/9 strikeout rate in 29.1 innings, so he’s already shown that he’s capable of missing bats in the majors.

Inconsistent command prevents him from being an elite pitching prospect, though. His 4.14 BB/9 walk rate this year is one of the better marks of his career, and just two years ago, he was walking 5.36 batters per nine innings in Double-A. And despite improving his command the last couple years, Archer remains inefficient on the mound. He’s only thrown more than five innings in two of his 10 starts this year, and he experienced a similar problem last year when he only averaged 5.12 innings per start.

Still, the potentially elite strikeout numbers make him an easy waiver claim. The real issue is whether owners should start Archer on Saturday against the Cleveland Indians, who boast the best offense in Major League Baseball with a 113 wRC+. The Indians knocked around Homer Bailey for seven earned runs on Thursday evening, and Bailey owned a 3.08 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 64.1 innings prior to Thursday’s start. It seems like testing fate to start Archer against such a buzzsaw of an offense, right?

Maybe not.

Although the Cleveland Indians have the best wRC+ in baseball, most of their damage has come against left-handed pitching this year. They only rank ninth in the league against righties with a 106 wRC+, while they rank number one against southpaws with an impressive 125 wRC+. If Archer were a lefty, it would be a no-brainer to sit him against the Indians. Fortunately, he’s a right-hander with big strikeout stuff.

The latter part matters significantly because the Indians strikeout a ton against righties. They rank fourth in baseball in K% against right-handed pitchers:

Team K%
Astros 26.5%
Braves 25.3%
Mets 23.6%
Indians 23.4%
Nationals 22.0%

Even Homer Bailey, who got knocked around on Thursday, struck out five in 3.2 innings against the Indians. The potential for a high-strikeout game is certainly there for Archer — even more than it would normally be due to his pure stuff alone.

It’s understandable that fantasy owners would be cautious in starting Chris Archer against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday. They have an above-average offense, but keep in mind that it’s not as high powered against right-handed pitching and the Indians strikeout a ton against them. It could be an opportunity for Archer to rack up the strikeouts, even if he gets knocked around a bit in the worst-case scenario. After all, John Lackey is another righty who relies heavily on a slider, and he just went seven scoreless against the Indians with eight strikeouts last week.

The Indians are not automatic against right-handed pitching, so if you’ve liked Chris Archer all year and have been waiting for him to get promoted, don’t be scared away by the matchup. It’s not as scary as it looks at first glance.