Chris Archer is broken. Coming into the season, he was widely considered a top Cy Young candidate and the marquee piece of a Tampa Bay Rays rotation that could support a less than dynamic offense. But in sixteen starts so far, he’s looked fixably underwhelming. Underwhelming, because he’s sporting a 4.60 ERA and a 4.28 FIP, both career-highs, coming into his Wednesday start versus the Cleveland Indians. Against the Indians he gave up four runs in six innings to raise his ERA to 4.70 to remain underwhelming. But fixable, because his problems begin and end in the same place: the first inning.
In sixteen starts this season, Archer has given up nineteen runs in the first inning alone. Taking the first inning out of the equation, he’s sporting a 3.43 ERA across the rest of his outings, a shade higher than his last three years of pitching but nowhere a cause for concern. The top of the lineup is, understandably, supposed to be the toughest hitters one can face, and he’s seemed to ease himself into the game following those batters getting to him. This leaves the Rays with two options: keep things the way they are and desperately hope their offense can whip up enough runs to make the first inning irrelevant (sadly unlikely) or try something that’s never been tried before. This latter option is what I will suggest.
If there’s a franchise willing to try something like this, it’s the Rays. What I think they should do is start a relief pitcher for the first inning and then have Archer enter the game in the second so that by the time the top of the lineup comes back around, he’ll have a good rhythm and will be hopefully in command of the game. The reliever to be used should be either Enny Romero or Xavier Cedeno because they’re lefties. This would give the top of the lineup two different looks their first two times through, ideally throwing them off their game.
The obvious drawback here is the possible psychological effect of a player who’s been his team’s ace not starting games for the time being. But what real difference does it make, starting or entering in the second, if he provides seven+ productive innings? Alex Colome would keep his position as the team’s closer, but if Archer takes to this proposal well enough to last into the ninth frequently, another option could be completely reversing the starter-closer roles and having Colome pitch the first and hoping Archer goes 2-9. This is by no means a perfect proposal, but it’s an innovative enough fix that could work better than the tried and true method of just keeping throwing the player out there and hoping they turn it around on their own.
Thoughts About the Thoughts:
Ben: I’ve always liked Archer, since he came off the mound screaming into his glove the first time I watched him. There was a rookie reliever for the Twins that got called up this year (I don’t remember his name, and it doesn’t matter because they’re terrible), but he got absolutely hammered and walked off the field shouting obscenities into the air freely, no glove block. Not a good look.
Brock: This reminds me of an extended version of the “fireman” position that Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh put Sean Conroy in for the Sonoma Stompers, as detailed in their book The Only Rule is it Has to Work. Now I’m really curious about reverse TTOP (times through the order penalty) splits…