What makes Archer so interesting when he’s off the field is that he’s a thinker. He brings a passion to his thoughts and his conversations that you can detect by talking to him for just a few moments.
Archer, 26, is on the verge of becoming one of the game’s elite pitchers. Archer’s teammate, Alex Cobb was on track to become the Rays staff ace last season, but injuries have set him back.
Now it looks like it’s going to be Archer’s turn. He’s 3-3 with a 1.64 ERA heading into his start against the Rangers tonight. His streak of 29 straight innings without allowing an earned run was broken in his last start, a loss to the Orioles.
That streak included three starts in a little more than two weeks in which he went at least seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits or fewer.
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Archer became the first pitcher in baseball’s modern era (since 1900) to have three such starts within his first five starts of the season. One of Archer’s baseball mentors, former teammate David Price has only had two such starts in his entire career.
"In the moment, you’re not thinking about the outcome," Archer said by phone on Wednesday. "You’re as present as you can be. I’m focused on pitch execution. Even in the starts where I’ve given up a few runs, I think I’ve been executing at a higher level."
Both the stats and the scouts back that up.
Archer is striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings, and in the first month of the season, he flipped his strikeout-to-walk rate from 2.4 last year to 4.2 through six starts.
He’s been in the strike zone and thrown to the bottom of the strike zone at a higher rate than usual. That’s netting him high amounts of ground balls and weak contact. He’s getting more called strikes, both as the result of being in the zone more and thanks to help from catchers Bobby Wilson and Rene Rivera.
"They’ve been huge," Archer said. "They do such a good job of pitch presentation. Even if I throw a ball, they’re not taking it out of the zone. They hold it for a second, which allows me to say I was a little bit off, I was just two inches off my target. If I stay there, I’ll get people out."
Archer is neutralizing left-handed hitters by throwing his slider and changeup in combination almost as much as he throws his fastball. He threw two-thirds fastballs to lefties last season. This season he’s dropped that to 53 percent. Left-handed batters are hitting .182 against him this season (right-handers are at .173).
Though Archer didn’t acknowledge any specific adjustments in terms of how he has pitched, he noted he’s been quicker to the plate this season. He allowed 30 stolen bases over the past two seasons, but has only yielded one this season.
"I have one tempo," Archer said, describing his delivery. "I don’t go too fast or too slow."
Archer is fast with his fastball, which averages 94.9 MPH (seventh-fastest among starters this season) and his slider, which averages 87 MPH and peaks at 90. His changeup has been slower to develop, but is gaining in value.
"He does have a superior power fastball and a swing-and-miss-slider," said said one major-league scout who has seen Archer pitch in person many times over the past three seasons. "His fastball is intimidating, consistent and it maintains velocity the whole game. He has room for error because those are such dynamic pitches. At-bats against him are uncomfortable at-bats and intimidating at-bats.
"He could still improve his changeup. But even if he has hard contact against his changeup, I’ve noticed that he’s continuing to use it. You throw enough good ones, you can gain confidence with it."
Archer has reason to be confident when he’s on the mound. Watch highlights of his starts and you’ll see a lot of very good hitters struggle against him.
"There’s no room for fear," Archer said of his approach to pitching.
Giancarlo Stanton is 0-for-6 against Archer and managed only a popout to first, a strikeout and a weak groundout in their most recent meeting on April 11. Jose Bautista is 2-for-24 against him. Adam Jones is 2-for-17. Robinson Cano is 0-for-10.
We didn’t bring up Archer’s issues with David Ortiz from last season (Archer was critical of Ortiz flipping a bat and slow-trotting a home run) or a back-and-forth shouting exchange he had with the Blue Jays dugout after Evan Longoria was hit by a pitch, but the scout noted "he’s controlling his emotions more this season."
Archer does seem to thrive off some emotion, as his recent giveaway bobblehead can attest, or at least an enjoyment of the game that comes through -- both on the field and off.
Archer might not yet be an All-Star, but he’s definitely first-team All-Interesting.
A month ago he tweeted "Don’t you just love that sense of accomplishment after finishing a good book?" Recently, he started working through Satchel Paige’s autobiography, which was left at Tropicana Field for him by a fan after they had a discussion about Paige on social media.
"It’s inspiring to read about somebody overcoming obstacles, adversity, accomplishing goals when the odds are very much against them," he said.
Archer also enjoys wordplay (another tweet: "If you don’t enjoy the way a person stinks, the relationship will never be a success") and watching documentaries (he found the recent HBO movie on Scientology, Going Clear fascinating). When he travels, he walks through the cities in which the Rays are playing. Read the varied interviews he’s done about his background and life experiences, and you’ll see someone who is extremely introspective.
Archer quotes bestselling writer and spiritual teacher Gary Zukav on his Instagram page -- "A conscious lifetime is a treasure beyond value."
"I take time every day for personal growth," he said. "I’m around people from all different walks of life, whether it’s Cuba, California, Nicaragua or Australia. You're never bored when you're traveling, because somebody can always offer something you’ve probably never heard before. Being able to talk to people about their life experience, its always on the forefront. Their belief system is always something different and interesting."
Archer cited Sam Fuld ("an intelligent free-thinker") and David DeJesus ("we’ve had great discussions on how much of life is a choice") as two of his favorite conversationalists, but shied away from the suggestion that most people would probably say he’s the most interesting player to talk to on the Rays. Right now, he’s just trying to execute and enjoy.
"I want to execute all of (my pitches)," he said. "That doesn’t necessarily mean throw them all for strikes. If you can execute 75 out of 90, it’s usually a pretty good night. I strive to execute all of them.
"The results have been really good. There's room for growth, but at the same time I can’t be upset about the results I been having.
"It’s a game at the end of the day. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing yourself an injustice."