What is Archer's future with the Bucs in 2020?

October 11th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Start with the most immediate question. After the World Series ends, the Pirates must exercise ’s $9 million club option or buy him out for $2 million. Is the 31-year-old right-hander going to be back next year?

“I don’t have any indication that I’m not,” Archer said during the final week of the regular season. “All the talks I’ve had with the front office are about next year and how to be better individually and as a team. I have a lot to give. I want to be back. We have a nice little nucleus, so hopefully we’re all still together.”

The Pirates haven’t said or done anything to indicate that they’re ready to move on from Archer, so it’s fair to expect he’ll be back in their rotation next season. If he is, he will return as one of their highest-paid and most important players.

Let’s take a look at Archer’s 2019 season and where he stands moving forward.

What went right?

Archer started out well enough, posting a 2.74 ERA with a 26:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only three homers allowed in his first four starts.

There were some encouraging elements in the way he finished, too. Ignore the 4.70 ERA in July and August, if you can, and look at Archer’s 63 strikeouts compared to 17 walks. After being plagued by home runs all summer, he didn’t allow any homers over 18 innings in September. He got back to pitching to his strengths, his four-seam fastball and slider, and he ditched his two-seam fastball. He completed six innings in five of his eight healthy starts.

“Right before the All-Star break, I started to feel really good. Just looking to grow on that,” Archer said. “More consistency with the heater, which makes everything else play way up.”

What Went Wrong?

Injuries, for one. Archer wouldn’t use the inconveniently timed operation as an excuse, but after undergoing surgery to repair a bilateral hernia last November, he may not have felt right physically until midseason. He missed two weeks in May due to right thumb inflammation and didn’t pitch after Aug. 20 due to right shoulder inflammation.

“It just was abnormal all around,” Archer said.

One of Archer’s finest traits in Tampa Bay was his durability, as he averaged 33 starts and 202 innings from 2014-17 and never spent a day on the injured list before June ‘18. In a year-and-a-half with the Pirates, he has worked only 172 innings in 33 starts.

As much of a problem as his injuries were, Archer is hopeful that he’ll have a healthy offseason. At the end of the season, he was planning to gear up for Spring Training in mid-to-late October. Last winter, he didn’t even begin rehab exercises until December.

“My No. 1 goal is to be healthy because the last season-and-a-half, I haven’t been. And it’s hard to be yourself,” Archer said. “The No. 1 focus is to get healthy, then when I start playing catch, start focusing on the things I was doing to make me successful toward the end.”

Archer was victimized by a spike in his home run rate, a career-high 1.9 homers per nine innings. His walk rate of 10.5 percent was the second-highest of his career, and his 1.41 WHIP was the worst of his career. And the back-of-the-baseball-card numbers -- a 3-9 record with a 5.19 ERA -- were simply not what the Pirates had in mind when they acquired him.

It didn’t help, to put it mildly, that the players the Pirates gave up for Archer have taken off. was elite when healthy with the Rays. was the Rays’ offensive Most Valuable Player. Shane Baz dominated in Class A ball and joined MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list.

Best Moment

Archer’s best start in a Pirates uniform came on April 13 at Nationals Park, where he struck out nine and held the Nats to just one run on four hits while throwing only 94 pitches in seven innings.

It’s one of only three starts for Pittsburgh in which Archer has finished the seventh inning, but the 3-2 loss came during an early stretch when the Pirates couldn’t support the strong starting pitching they were getting.

There were other flashes of success, like his first six innings at Wrigley Field on July 12, but that was the beginning of a skid in which the Bucs lost seven straight games started by Archer.

2020 Outlook

For all that went wrong, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Archer is the Pirates’ Opening Day starter next season -- at Tropicana Field, oddly enough. They need him to lead a rotation that should also include , , and or .

They may not get the All-Star Archer, but they need a more consistent version of him. Perhaps a new pitching coach will help get more out of the entire staff, because the Pirates need their rotation to be a strength and not the liability it was this year.

“We’re going to have to be,” Archer said. “The team’s going to rely on us.”