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Tigers vs. Rays Preview: Chris Archer is struggling right now, but for how long?

Archer hasn’t been his usual self so far in 2018, but that might not last for long.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, a lot of our content has revolved around how we should treat the small sample sizes created by April baseball. JaCoby Jones gets off to a hot start? Slow down, he did this last year. Let’s wait until the league adjusts to him. Francisco Liriano has been the Tigers’ best starter so far? Well, he might be getting a little lucky. Dixon Machado has gotten some timely hits? Unfortunately, he isn’t hitting too well on the whole.

Matthew Boyd has been one of those cautionary tales. Not only is he riding a .194 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), he has just 14 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched this year. Just about everything in his profile screams “Regression!” from his 2.74 ERA, including a career-low home run rate and a 4.72 FIP that is nearly two full runs higher than that ERA.

Worst of all, however, might be the velocity.

To his credit, Boyd is missing barrels so far. His .305 expected wOBA is a fair bit higher than his actual wOBA of .260, but even a regression to that level would be a huge improvement over what he actually produced (.350 wOBA) in 2017. Opponents are hitting the ball slightly harder, but have averaged a 22 degree launch angle, resulting in a huge fly ball rate. They are also hitting the ball hard just 24.3 percent of the time, according to Statcast, the lowest rate of Boyd’s career.

Tampa Bay Rays (13-14) at Detroit Tigers (11-16)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Chris Archer (2-1, 6.61 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (0-2, 2.74 ERA)

Game 28 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Archer 32.2 24.5 7.5 4.47 0.3
Boyd 23.0 15.2 7.6 4.71 0.2

I’m not sure what to make of Chris Archer’s numbers. His ERA is above 6 in part thanks to a rough start against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 14 — Archer gave up seven runs on eight hits in four innings — but he hasn’t been very good in his other outings either. He has given up at least four runs in five of his six starts this year, and has allowed 41 hits in 32 23 innings. The strikeouts are still there, but we’ve seen firsthand with other starters that a healthy strikeout rate doesn’t mean much if opponents are tattooing the ball when they do make contact.

Unfortunately for Archer, opponents are doing just that. He has given up 10 “barrels” in 99 batted ball events, a 10.1 percent rate that is nearly double his career average. His .348 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) is a bit lower than his actual wOBA (.373), indicating that some regression is in order. However, both figures are well above his career marks of .297 and .298, respectively. Both launch angle and exit velocity have increased compared to 2017, a concerning trend for the 29-year-old righthander.

Luckily, this doesn’t seem to be anything serious. His velocity has dipped ever so slightly compared to last April, but is right in line with what he produced in 2016. His pitches are moving similarly to what they did last year, and he doesn’t seem to have lost any bite on his slider. If anything, his changeup has gotten better — he’s throwing it more often and generating more whiffs, an encouraging sign for the normally fastball-slider-heavy approach he takes.

Key matchup: Matt Boyd vs. a bunch of lefty mashers

Boyd has struggled in his career against right-handed hitters, making a matchup against a platoon-heavy team like the Rays a difficult one. We only have a one-start sample to work off of in his career, and that game was way back in 2015, Boyd’s first season in the big leagues. However, I’m not sure I like how this one sizes up. The Rays have been baseball’s third-best offense against left-handed pitching this season, producing a 123 wRC+ in a healthy number of plate appearances. They have struck out a fair amount (24 percent) and are riding a .340 BABIP against southpaws, but many of their hitters putting up strong numbers are righthanders with decent track records against left-handed pitching.


Archer does Archer things to the Tigers lineup.

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