The baseball world scratched their heads in July of last year when the Tampa Bay Rays traded long-time de facto ace Chris Archer while contending. In return, they got big-time prospects Austin Meadows and Shane Baz, as well as seemingly big-league bust Tyler Glasnow from a Pirates team hoping to make noise long-term.
Archer’s team friendly deal (2-options after this year for $20M total) and high strikeout totals (1246 Ks in 1156 IP) was very appealing to a Pittsburgh front office who thought a change of scenery would benefit the young starter. The change of scenery helped a pitcher in this deal, but not the one Pittsburgh would’ve hoped.
After the trade, Tampa went onto win 90 games with newfound ace and Cy Young winner Blake Snell at the helm followed by the oft-mentioned Opener strategy that Tampa implemented. Swapping spots in the rotation, Tyler Glasnow went back to his original role as a starting pitcher. When he posted an ERA of 7 his first full year in the Majors, Pittsburgh figured he was a lost cause, expendable and turned him into a reliever.
In 2019, however, everything’s clicked for Tyler Glasnow. For Tyler, the lanky 6’8 pitcher with exploding stuff finally had a pitching coach who understood his struggles. Kyle Snyder, Tampa Bay’s pitching coach, is also 6’8 and had to adjust to the same problems Glasnow’s faced at the MLB level. These two worked on his mechanics all offseason and it has done wonders. Though currently on the IL, Glasnow has been impressive all season; posting a 1.86 ERA over 8 starts, with a 6-1 record, 234 ERA+, .910 WHIP and averaging more than 10 strikeouts a game. If you take out the excellent defense behind him, he’s still been magnificent, posting a 2.23 FIP. This has led him to a 1.6 BBRef WAR. The way he uses his frame now to hide the ball, mixed in the disgusting movement and how fast the ball moves, it’s damn near untouchable.
I mean, just look at how unfair this is:
Tyler Glasnow's final line against the White Sox:
6.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 Hits, 1 BB, 11Ks.
18 Swinging Strikes with 33/85 CSW overall (39% = elite!)
He was flat out filthy. Here's a supercut of his best pitches from today. pic.twitter.com/mHFBrln9JD— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) April 10, 2019
Big league hitters the caliber of a guy like Jose Abreu and Eloy Jiminez are hardly ever fooled so clearly as they are in the video.
As for Austin Meadows, he’s been the clear-cut AL MVP thus far in the season for the Rays as they find themselves in the middle of a crazy division title race with the vaunted Bronx Bombers. Heading into tonight (as shown by the thumbnail), he’s posted a 1.124 OPS (on-base percentage+slugging percentage); all the while playing excellent defense and hitting .360 with 12 homeruns and 31 RBI in 37 games. These are video game like numbers only put up by elite players such as Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich. So far in the series opener against the Twins, he’s driven in 4 with 2 more base knocks. Meadows breakout campaign shouldn’t be surprising, given his status as a highly touted prospect and the solid rookie year he had in 2018—despite a lack of regular playing time. Pittsburgh found him expendable because their outfield of Dickerson/Marte/Polanco is set. But with Dickerson getting hurt early on this year, that 2.3 WAR that Meadows has posted would be a far better replacement than the aging Melky Cabrera (0.0 WAR). Inserting Meadows sweet swing into any lineup is like putting a stick of dynamite right into the middle of it with everything he knows how to do. Meadows could potentially become the Rays most complete and dangerous offensive weapon since Carl Crawford left almost a full decade ago.
The third and final player that the Rays’ coerced out of the Pirates was the PTBNL (player to be named later). This happened to be Pittsburgh 2017 first round draft pick Shane Baz.
Baz is currently playing for the Rays A-ball affiliate, and to no surprise, is having a dominant year. The 20-year old has a sub-2 ERA in 5 games so far this season.
Chris Archer, the only player Pittsburgh got in return for a load of talent, is not performing up-to-par. The change of scenery has resulted in less than adequate results as he’s posted a 5.75 ERA this season. Is anybody really surprised?
They shouldn’t be.
Why Isn’t Arch Performing?
Chris Archer for a long time was the subject to a lot of chatter regarding his team and the talent disparity. He was the forefront-face of the Rays pitching staff during their rebuild, and was a bright spot in 2015 when he gained his first of two All-Star selections and posted a stellar 3.23 ERA as he started a league-leading 34 games. He was christened the teams’ ace and compared to top tier pitchers such as Max Scherzer just because of this one season. He gained a reputation for his dynamic stuff that resulted in a lot of whiffs.
However, 2016 is when Archer fell back to earth. He went 9 and 19 and had an ERA over 4. He gave up 21 more homeruns than he did in 2015, but he still struck out 233 hitters.
2017 was the same story. He gave up 19 more homeruns than he did in 2016 and struck out 250. His ERA went up again. In 2018, before the trade, his ERA was a mediocre 4.31 with 19 homeruns given up. But for Archer, there was also a lot of traffic. Hitters laid off just as much as they chased. His walk-rates were through the roof. People blamed his record on run support, but any ace should be able to work with his team giving him 3 runs a start.
Due to his reputation, Pittsburgh took a risk and it has yet to bear any fruit. Why is that? He’s left the American League and now can pitch to pitchers. He doesn’t have to deal with the Yankees or Red Sox anymore, or the lineup of Donaldson-Bautista-Encarnacion that the Blue Jays had at Archer’s peak. Archer should be the ace he was hyped to be, but hasn’t been.
For one, Archer went to the NL Central. A division full of hitters such as Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo and Christian Yelich is in for a tough task due to their high on-base percentages and Archer’s control issue. These are hitters that lay off a lot more, which means they force him to throw a lot more strikes that flatten out over the zone and get tattooed into the bleachers.
Archer is walking 2 more hitters a game on average than he was in the American League and striking out 2 less. His homerun rate has also gone up (1.2 over 9 innings to 1.8). The only truly homerun friendly ballpark in the American League East is Yankee Stadium while Miller Park, Great American Ballpark and Wrigley Field can all be a hitters’ paradise at times. This, I feel, could also have a major impact on Archer’s statistics.
The third and final reason I’m going to propose for the unprecedented rise in numbers is the absence of Kevin Kiermaier. Aptly named the Outlaw, Kiermaier leads all center-fielders in defensive runs saved since the start of the 2015 season. As Bobby Cox would say about Andruw Jones in the late 1990s, Kiermaier has “RBIs in his glove.”
I’m a firm believer that runs saved is just as good as runs scored. Kiermaier regular throws bullets at the plate to save runs or leaps over the wall to save runs. Starling Marte is a quality defender, but he hasn’t put up historic defensive numbers. Anything hit to center has the potential to fall, unlike when Kiermaier’s out there.
That’s incredible. If there’s anybody else in centerfield with the exception of maybe Ender Inciarte and Lorenzo Cain, that’s a homerun for Machado.
Archer is definitely messing the presence of Kiermaier. Despite that, he looks to turn it around as the season dives quickly into the summer.
So far, the Rays have made out like a bandit, but there’s still time for Archer to at least make it feasible. With 2 years left on the deal, Pittsburgh will likely hope he’ll turn it around. As for the Rays, the Pirates pretty much sped up their entire rebuilding process by a year. If Baz becomes even an average major league player, this could be the most lopsided trade since the Tigers traded John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander in 1987.
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*All statistics are heading into Thursday, May 30th, unless noted otherwise.