Filed under:

# How many sliders does Chris Archer throw?

Chris Archer and a 2,500-year-old Chinese military axiom.

Whilst watching Chris Archer’s (fantastic) Opening Day start against the Yankees, between thoughts about how much he looks like someone who would run in a squad with Chance the Rapper and Anderson Paak, I thought I observed two different breaking balls — or at least two variations on his slider. Now, I’ll admit to not having watched too many Chris Archer starts, but it turns out I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. Ian Malinowski over at DRaysBay had this to say about Archer’s inaugural start:

“We noticed last year how the Rays pitchers seemed to be playing with different speeds of the same pitch. Kevin Antonevich did an excellent job looking for the bimodality on Archer’s slider, and it did seem like there was something there, but I don’t think it’s ever been as clearly displayed as it was yesterday afternoon.”

Bimodality! I would never have thought to use that word, because I didn’t know it existed. I’m constantly encountering people who can put into words what I’m thinking better than I can, and this is a perfect example. However, after watching Archer’s second (also fantastic) start, I think I have a handle on Archer’s subtleties. It’s not atypical, though it is nuanced, and it ultimately may be simple — because the way he’s manipulating his slider based on counts feels pretty intuitive.

To create a baseline that we’ll use to determine if Archer has different sliders, let’s look at the characteristics of Archer’s average slider in 2017:

### Archer’s average slider

Velocity Horizontal movement Vertical movement
Velocity Horizontal movement Vertical movement
88.3 -0.30 0.15
PITCHf/x

Now, contrary to what you’re reading in the above table, Archer’s slider does not have arm-side movement. There appears to be movement discrepancies in addition to the velocity issues we’re seeing as the PITCHf/x system gives way to Trackman. It is what it is.

Anyway, that’s the baseline we’re working with, so let’s get to it.

Behind in the count

Archer has thrown 93 sliders this season — yes, small sample size caveats apply — and among them, the 22 slowest velocities recorded belong to sliders thrown when he’s been behind in the count or in zero-count situations. These are commonly referred to as “get me over” sliders, which is a fittingly passive-sounding nomenclature as these are generally muted versions of even his average slider.

### Behind in the count slider compared to average slider

Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
87.0 (-1.3) -0.6 (-0.3) 0.4 (0.2)
PITCHf/x

This version, by design, is inferior in every aspect to his average slider, allowing Archer to command the ball into the zone with the purpose of stealing strikes by contradicting a hitter’s expectation of a fastball. To wit, when behind in the count, Archer ups the in-zone rate on his slider from 40.9 percent to 54.2 percent.

Everything I just said about his “get me over” slider can be flipped on its head to describe the slider Archer throws when he’s ahead in the count. This version is the kill shot, and it spares no one.

### Ahead in the count slider compared to average slider

Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
89.6 (1.3) -0.24 (0.06) -0.09 (-0.24)
PITCHf/x

This year he’s thrown his slider between 87.2 and 92.5 mph when ahead in the count, which is clearly a different gear than the 82.3-88.7 mph range he resides in when behind. And because a hitter behind in the count is more likely to flail at a pitch like Star Wars Kid playing baseball, Archer isn’t restricted to the confines of the strike zone — especially with two strikes.

### Zone% compared to league average likelihood to swing

Count League average swing% Archer zone%
Count League average swing% Archer zone%
0 - 1 47.6 37.5
0 - 2 51.2 25.0
1 - 2 57.8 33.3

This is not to say, however, that Archer has an extremely diminished sense of where this incarnation of his slider is going, because he certainly hasn’t made many mistakes in these situations in the early goings this year.

Even counts & full

Considering the majority of Archer’s sliders come in even and full counts, it’s unsurprising that this sample of his sliders represent something very similar to his average slider.

### Even and full count sliders compared to average slider

Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
Velocity (diff from avg SL) Horizontal movement (diff from avg SL) Vertical movement (diff from avg SL)
88.6 (0.03) -0.20 (0.10) 0.14 (-0.23)
PITCHf/x

Since there’s a higher likelihood that hitters will swing in these counts compared to when they’re ahead, Archer locates at the very bottom of the zone and often just below, hoping to muddle a hitter’s pitch recognition, and in doing so, generate a whiff or a ground ball.

So how many sliders does Archer throw?

I’ve sat with this question a while and still cannot decide. It’s two versions of the same thing. It’s two, but it’s only one! The “get me over” slider he throws is effective because it’s worse — like a karaoke version of “Don’t Stop Believin,’” it works only because of context. Malinowski may have been right when he posited that Chris Archer has three-and-a-half pitches (one-and-a-half sliders).

Perhaps the way I feel about Archer is how hitters feel about him. I am confident that I understand him now, but at the same time, I’m just as flummoxed. There is an oft-quoted passage from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War that I think we can apply to how Archer uses his slider: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” (though I call BS on that confidence interval).

Chris Archer has a firm grasp on his strengths and weaknesses. He knows his weapons are potent yet few, but he’s able to squeeze every bit of value out of them by playing off his enemy’s tendencies. He’s common sense-driven, adaptable, and varied. He’s also really, really fun.

Chris Archer definitely loves the war.