To set the scene, let’s rewind approximately 24-hours. Chris Archer once again took the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays in the sixth after posting shaky first, third, and fifth innings. Somehow in spite of the rainy weather — which undoubtedly made it hard for Archer, whose slider was not sharp (41 thrown, 22 strikes, 17 whiffs) and changeup practically absent (four thrown, 0 strikes) — Archer kept the wolves at bay and his team in the game. Yet everything changed in the sixth.
With two outs, Archer left a cement mixer over the heart of the plate, which Hyun Soo Kim deposited in the right-field stands. One pitch later, Jonathan Schoop did the same.
Whatever command Archer had on Monday night faded from the jump, yet Rays skipper Kevin Cash inexplicably chose to send him back out to face the top of the order for a fourth time the following inning. …And as fate would have it, after a hit-by-pitch of Seth Smith, Adam Jones crushed a no-doubter to left, giving Baltimore the go ahead runs.
The question begs: Should Cash have hung his hopes on Archer the third and fourth times through the order, on a night when he was bereft of command?
There are a few known knowns when talking about trips through the order. First, pitchers pitch better the first time through the order, than they do overall. Secondly, starters get progressively worse as they face the lineup for the second, third, and fourth times. Those points, combined with chart below, speak volumes about Archer in 2017.
This season, Archer’s ERA (+6.72), batting average against (+.239), weighted on base average (+.275), BABIP (+.186), and BB/9 (+3.62) have increased precipitously from the first time through the order through the third, while his K/9 (-5.05) and K/BB (-3.53) have fallen dramatically. Last night was no different; in fact, Archer’s last three starts have followed a similar pattern.
There’s another interesting correlation when speaking of times through the order. If a batter has seen more than four pitches in his first plate appearance, he hits 25 points better the second time around. It stands to reason that the greater number of pitches a batter sees, the better his next PA will be. And unless a pitcher makes adjustments, it would be reasonable to assume that the batter would hit better the third and fourth times through order. Interestingly enough, both Kim and Jones saw at least four pitches in their first plate appearances (and 11 pitches total prior to their big blasts), with Schoop — who saw two pitches before he flied out — being the outlier.
Of course there is some irony by posing the question, whether Cash should have continued to rely upon Archer. The Rays’ skipper received tons of heat two years ago for pulling his starters prior to the seventh inning, which he acknowledged in a Q&A session at the 2015 Winter Meetings:
I pulled them quicker than anybody and probably took a lot of heat for it. Coming into the season, we felt that was the best chance for us to win. Looking back, when it works it works, and everybody is happy. When it doesn’t work, there are people who want to ask questions, which we understand.
Times through the order, we value that — not to the extent of maybe what is brought up, but we do value it. We also value the eye test and how our pitchers are doing in that given start.
If Cash evaluated Archer on the seeing eye test Monday night, I’d have to question his vision. If he based his decision on the pitch count, I’d remind him that pitch count does not have much of an effect on times through the order. From the point of view of a rabid baseball fan, and/or that of an armchair manager, I would have had a reliever warming in the ‘pen with Archer on the mound in the sixth. A 19 pitch first (58% strikes), a 22 pitch third (45% strikes) and a 20 pitch fifth (60% strikes) — paired with the fact that Archer lacked command of his secondary pitches — are more than enough for me to base my decision on. That Archer hasn’t fared well the third and fourth times through the order only strengthens my resolve.
For an excellent dissection of how the times through the order effects a pitcher, check out Mitchel Lichtman’s piece at Baseball Prospectus.