Chris Archer was acquired as part of the Matt Garza trade in early January of 2011. At the time he was acquired he had just finished an impressive season going 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA splitting time between the Chicago Cubs High-A affiliate Daytona Cubs and Double-A Tennessee Smokies.
His last 13 starts in 2011 were at the Double-A level where he posted a 8-2 record with a 1.80 ERA – it would only seem logical that the Rays would send him to their Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls to begin the 2011 season but instead he was sent to their Double-A affiliate Montgomery Biscuits.
He made 25 starts in Montgomery and went 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA and had trouble controlling the strike zone walking 80 hitters in 134.1 innings pitched (5.4 BB/9). He was promoted to the Bulls to finish the season where he made 2 starts winning one decision allowing just a single earned run in his 13 innings of work.
He spent the majority of the 2012 season with the Bulls making 25 starts (7-9, 3.66 ERA) and gained command of the strike zone lowering his walk rate to 4.2 BB/9.
He finally made his major league debut for the Rays on June 20th of the 2012 season facing off against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. He took the loss but pitched well allowing 3R/1ER on 3 hits striking out 7 and walking 1.
Overall in 2012 with the Rays he appeared in six games making four starts and posted a record of 1-3 with a 4.60 ERA. In his brief stay with the big league club he flashed the electric stuff and continued to show better command of the strike zone.
When he reported to spring training in 2013 he was competing with Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez for the 5th starters job. Afeter just 7 innings of spring work he was sent to minor league camp. After speaking to Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon, and Jim Hickey about what they expected from him he said, “there’s no malicious feelings, there’s no negative feeling going to Triple-A – going to the minor league for who knows how long. I just have to continue to develop.”
He also was prophetic saying “something is going to happen every year, somebody goes down or they need an extra arm – whatever – so I’m going to make the most of the opportunity but continue to maximize my potential in the minor leagues.”
His opportunity seemed to come in mid-May when David Price had to leave his start with a strained triceps but Archer himself had been banged up with the Bulls. In one May start he was hit by a line drive in the calf and causing him to miss a start and when he came back he was hit by another line drive in the hip resulting in another missed start; therefore, rather than Archer it was Jake Odorizzi who took Price’s spot.
He wouldn’t have to wait long for his next opportunity as the Rays summoned him on June 1st to face the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The last time he was at Progressive Field was when he signed his contract with the Cleveland Indians in 2006. His day didn’t go well as he allowed 5R/ER on 7 hits including 2 home runs in just 4 innings of work as the Rays fell to the Tribe 5-0 victory.
He didn’t find immediate success posting a 1-3 record with a 5.04 ERA over his first four starts and there were some early concerns about his exuberance on the mound. Some called it exuberance while others called it immaturity and it was in full display against the Red Sox on June 12th.
The questions about his emotional maturity and whether he could control himself on a major league mound were answered after having a July to remember. He posted a record of 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA allowing only 17 hits in his 37 innings pitched.
According to Elias Sports Bureau his 0.73 ERA was the lowest ERA in the month of July by any rookie dating back to 1920. It was also the lowest ERA for a Rays starting pitcher for any month. In his last start versus the Yankees he became the first Rays pitcher to hurl a shutout against them in 268 games. At the end of the impressive stretch he was named the AL Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month.
It would be unrealistic for Archer to continue to dominate the opposition for the remainder of the season and he was much more normal in August posting a record of 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA. He seemed to show some wear and tear of the long season in September when he had his starts pushed back and his innings limited. Overall in September he delivered 26.1 innings and posted a 1-2 record with a 4.78 ERA.
After his dominating performance in July he began to get victimized by the long ball. Over his last 65.2 innings dating back to August 1st he allowed 10 home runs (12 starts). Prior to August 1st he had only allowed 5 home runs in 67.2 innings. He especially had problems keeping left handed hitters in the park as they hit 13 of the 15 home runs against him.
Overall, he finished the season 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA. He made 23 starts and delivered 128.2 innings of work. Combined with his work with the Durham Bulls he worked a career high 178.2 innings in 2013.
He finished second among American League rookies with 9 victories, innings pitched (128.2), and strike outs (110) while leading all AL Rookies in shutouts with 2. He holds the distinction of having the highest average fastball of any American League pitcher clocking in at 94.9 mph.
He just turned 25 years old on September 26th and will not be faced with the same restrictions on his innings or have to battle fatigued at the end of the season. He’ll have the advantage of a full offseason of conditioning and should have supreme confidence that he will assured of a rotation spot when he reports to spring training. His electric arm has the ability to dominate a lineup, especially right handed batters, and now he just needs to continue to find a way to retire left handed batters — if he does that the bar will be raised from star to superstar in 2014.