By: Noah Wright
If you’re a Pirates fan, then you probably love Steve Blass. Regardless of what he said about Ronald Acuna in the previous series vs the Braves (which I have no idea how somebody found racist), Blass’ career was one of success and failure. Sorta like the path Chris Archer’s career is going so far. I mean, they’re pretty comparable as for their career goes. At one point, they were dominant right handers and the best pitcher on their team. Then for no real good reason, they just lost it. So let’s get into how Chris Archer is becoming the Pirates’ next Steve Blass.
Blass was one of the Bucs’ best pitchers in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It all started with his breakout 1968 season. That year, he pitched to a very good 2.12 ERA, 2.78 FIPm and 1.126 WHIP through 220 and a third innings. While Blass wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher, his control was always great. He had walked just 2.3 batters per 9, while giving up only 13 long balls. While 1969 was a so-so season for Blass, the Pirates’ right hander then put up 3 solid seasons of production spanning from 1970 to 1972. Between those 3 seasons, Blass had a 2.91 ERA, 3.34 FIP, and 1.260 WHIP in a total of 686 and a third innings. His control was still a major asset to the team. He walked just 225 batters, and gave up only 48 long balls between those 3 seasons. Blass made the All-star game in ‘72 when he pitched to the tune of a 2.49 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 1.246 WHIP. He even finished 2nd in Cy Young voting that season. But after the ‘72 season, everything went down for Blass. At just 31 years of age, Blass put up awful numbers in 1973. In 88 and two thirds innings, he had walked a grand total of 84 batters. The same amount of batters he had walked a season prior, but in 161 fewer innings. Home runs had also become an issue as he gave up 11. All told, Blass had a putrid 9.85 ERA, and 2.177 WHIP with the Bucs. The next season, Blass returned to pitch in just 5 innings, and the results were just as bad as in ;73. Blass, for no real reason whatsoever, was no longer an effective MLB pitcher at just 31 years of age. The former All-star and 1971 World Series winner threw his last MLB pitch a day before his 32nd birthday.
While Chris Archer has not received as much success as Blass, there’s no doubt that at one point, he was a very good #2 starter with #1 ace potential. Archer started out his career as a 23 year old in 2012, but didn’t receive a full starter’s workload until 2013, his rookie season. Out of the gates, the right hander looked like a future ace for the TB Rays. Through 128 and two thirds innings, Archer had a 3.22 ERA, 4.06 FIP, and 1.127 WHIP. While his strikeouts were down, his walks stood at a solid 2.7 per 9, and eventually, his K rate would go up. He had struck out 9.8 batters per 9 a season prior in AAA, so there was good reason to believe his numbers would only get better. The next 2 season, Archer delivered on his promise of rising K numbers, while keeping good control. In 406 and two thirds innings, Archer put up a 3.28 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and 1.205 WHIP. He averaged about 9.4 K’s/9, while walking just 3.1 batters per 9. Plus, he had kept the ball in the park more, with a .7 HR/9. But then, he wasn't nearly as effective to his first 3 seasons in the MLB. In the next 2 seasons, Archer’s ERA climbed into the 4’s, with a 4.02 ERA in ‘16, and 4.07 ERA in ‘17. Home runs became a problem again as well. He gave up 57 in 402 and two thirds innings. While he did see his strikeouts and walks go in good directions (2.8 BB/9, 10.8 K/9), all his other numbers rose. 2018 was going fairly similar to 2016 and 2017. His ERA was above 4 for the third straight season, this time at 4.31. Home runs were still a problem, having given up 1.0 per 9, but still had very good K and BB numbers (9.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9). At the deadline, the Rays shipped off Archer to the Pirates for a haul that included Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and former 1st rounder Shane Baz. Archer’s first few starts in Pittsburgh were awful, and while he did improve some nearing the end of 2018, he was still a bit questionable for 2019. And 2019 has so far been the worst season of his career. He has given up 38 earned runs in 59 and a third innings. His home runs have been a major issue, leading the league with 16 long balls given up. Walks are also a concern as he has a 4.5 BB/9 rate. Sure you could say that part of that has been because of the injury that caused him to miss a few starts, but his struggles have been extremely apparent when he has been healthy.
While Archer has never had the success that Blass had, his career is taking the same path as Blass. All-Star level pitcher for a few seasons all of a sudden hits a wall for some reason that’s not fully clear. Blass’ career drop off was so sudden that many might know this kind of drop off as Steve Blass Disease. While Archer might have some time to turn it around, he’s looking like another victim of Steve Blass disease.