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Chris Archer and Six Other Unexpected Pitching Performances in May

Every month in Major League Baseball, there are several players that have an unexpectedly great month. This could be because they are having a breakout season, or maybe because they were good in the past but lost some of their shine and have been forgotten. It could even be a good player putting up a historically excellent month. For this list, I have picked seven pitchers who put up great stats in the month of May that many people may not have noticed.

Chris Archer – 2-2, 6 G, 40 IP, 4.05 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 58 K, 12 BB

In May, Chris Archer was an absolute strikeout machine, sitting down 58 of his total 163 batters faced on strikeouts. His 58 strikeouts are the most in any month for any pitcher in the Tampa Rays history.  In his six starts during the month, he struck out batters in the double digits four times. Archer now has 21 career double-digit strikeout games, only two behind David Price for the Rays franchise record. Though his ERA did not match his strikeout dominance at only 4.05, Archer’s 58 strikeout month is something to be admired. Those 58 strikeouts tie him with Sale for 6th most in the month of May over the last decade behind Clayton Kershaw (65), Max Scherzer (60 twice), and Corey Kluber (60 twice). While Archer is known as a big name, especially as a trade target, his 2016 season was a big step back from his breakout 2015 campaign. What he’s doing in 2017 could get him back to the place he was after that 5th place finish in the Cy Young voting in 2015.

Alex Wood – 5-0, 5 G, 28.1 IP, 1.27 ERA, 1.10 FIP, 41 K, 7 BB

Although Wood only pitched 28.1 innings in May, he was all-around dominant and the Los Angeles Dodgers won all five of his starts. The most impressive part of Wood’s May is his strikeout percentage. He struck out 41 of the 112 batters he faced, not only leading all starting pitchers at a 36.6 K% in the month, but also has the third best K% in the last decade behind Kershaw (38.5%) and Jose Fernandez (37.8%) for the month of May. In a season where Kershaw has merely been great for the Dodgers instead of otherworldly, Alex Wood has stepped into the role of de facto Dodgers’ ace admirably. Currently Alex Wood is on the 10-day disabled list, but he may be back soon.

Lance McCullers – 4-0, 6 G, 36.1 IP, 0.99 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 37 K, 10 BB

It is less and less surprising that Lance McCullers had a great month because he has been doing that quite a bit in his young MLB career. McCullers is currently working on an incredibly impressive home start streak where he has not allowed more than three runs in all 26 starts of his career, having now passed Jose Fernandez‘s record just this season. Aside from that amazing feat, McCullers allowed zero earned runs in a four start stretch from 5/6 – 5/23, though somehow only winning three of those starts. As more times passes, the less likely you will see anyone call the great things that McCullers does “unexpected”. Rather he should start being lumped in with pitchers like Sale, Scherzer, and Strasburg, all pitchers who were excellent in May but is completely expected of them.

Jeff Samardzija – 1-3, 6 G, 40.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 49 K, 1 BB

Jeff Samardzija won one game and lost three in the month of May. That, however, is more a product of the San Francisco Giants offense being dead last in wRC+ for the month of May, hitting merely .226/.284/.355 and giving as little run support as they possibly could have. Jeff (you try spelling that last name every time you want to reference him!) did just about everything he could to win games for the Giants in May, and it is not his fault that it was not enough. The most impressive thing that Jeff did was his phenomenal 49/1 K/BB ratio. Something like that is not something you see all the time. In fact, his 49/1 K/BB ratio is the second best in ANY month going back to 2002 (as far back as the Fangraphs Splits Leaderboard goes), behind Cliff Lee‘s 54/1 in September/October of 2013. To walk one batter, as impressive as that is, has happened many times in a month. But to do it with nearly 50 strikeouts? That is a month that will rank among the best of his generation and for years to come.

Blake Parker – 1-1, 13 G, 12.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, 0.91 FIP, 18 K, 3 BB

Blake Parker has had an interesting ride in the MLB to this point. He started with the Chicago Cubs back in 2012 with a cup of coffee and had a nice 2013 with a 2.72 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 46 innings. After this Parker had some home run trouble in 2014 that spike his ERA up to 5.14, though still had good enough K and BB rates to pull down a 3.28 FIP in 21 innings. He then went to the Seattle Mariners to play with their AAA club, after that to the New York Yankees with mixed results. However, Parker went to the Los Angeles Angels for the 2017 season, and was excellent in Spring Training, striking out 24 with only 2 walks and a 0.73 ERA in 12.1 IP. This won Parker a spot in the Angels bullpen, leading to his May with a 0.91 FIP in 12.2 IP. Parker has been a very nice story this year for the Angels in a year where they need all the good news they can get. Currently, Bud Norris is the Angels closer with Cam Bedrosian injured, and Norris is doing very well at the moment himself, but it may only be a matter of time before Parker takes that closer spot for himself with how dominant he has been.

Joe Kelly – 0-0, 10 G, 10 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.24 FIP, 12 K, 2 BB

Ever since Joe Kelly was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 season, Kelly has really struggled in the big leagues with the Red Sox. From 2014 – 2016, Kelly was 18-8 with 41 games started with a 4.70 ERA 4.32 FIP in 235.2 IP. Kelly did find some success with the AAA Red Sox mostly as a reliever, with a 1.54 ERA and 1.51 FIP in 35 IP in 2016. In 2017 Kelly has been a reliever exclusively, and in the month of May really started to hit his stride. In 10 appearances with 10 innings pitched, Kelly didn’t allow a single earned run. As a hard-throwing pitcher, average 98 MPH on his fastball, he seems suited for late innings relief work out of the bullpen as opposed to starting games, where he has struggled for years now. With Craig Kimbrel on the Red Sox, Kelly will likely rarely see the 9th inning of many games, but he has shown he can be quite the asset out of the bullpen.

Corey Knebel – 0-0, 3 SV, 13 G, 12.2 IP, 0.71 ERA, 1.22 FIP, 27 K, 6 BB

Corey Knebel has been a serviceable reliever in the MLB since 2014. First with a short 8.2 IP stint for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, and since as a Milwaukee Brewer. Knebel has had some problems with a high walk rate, 3.75 BB/9 for his career, but has had a decent HR rate at 0.92 HR/9 and a great K rate at 11.70 K/9. 2017 has been a big step forward for Knebel so far, vastly upping his K/9 (15.92) and lowering his HR/9 (0.35). In the month of May Knebel saved three games with 27 strikeouts and six walks in just 12.2 innings pitched. The K/9 rate for Knebel in May was a whopping 19.18, on average of more than two hitters struck out per inning pitched. Craig Kimbrel still had the highest K% of the month for relievers at 61%, but Knebel’s 55.1 K% was still good enough for second overall. With Neftali Feliz struggling so mightily, Knebel seems to have replaced him as the Brewers closer. If he keeps pitching like he did in May, there is a good chance he will be there to stay.

 

Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor