The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen looks much different and has undergone some big changes since the beginning of the offseason. The most recent change is the signing of former Arizona Diamondbacks closer Chad Qualls to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million. As always, there are bonuses to be gained for performance and awards, and Qualls will most likely compete with Michael Stutes for the second set-up man position. Newly signed closer Jonathan Papelbon and star reliever Antonio Bastardo are firmly entrenched at the top of the bullpen, but Qualls has a shot at becoming the third high-leverage reliever.
In his two seasons with the Diamondbacks, Chad Qualls was a successful reliever who was worth 3.3 WAR in those seasons- including a 2.1 WAR season in 2008. Before that, he was a quality reliever for the Astros and was worth over 0.5 WAR twice with the team.Things have went downhill ever since he was traded to the San Diego Padres, and he hit rock-bottom last season. Qualls pitched in 74.1 innings, his most since his days with the Houston Astros, but he was worth -0.3 WAR with a career-low 5.21 K/9.
Qualls’s sudden drop in strikeouts is both alarming and somewhat worrying for a 33-year-old reliever. However, it came in just 74 innings and is mainly due to small sample-size. Qualls’s fastball velocity was still between 92 and 93 miles per hour, but there are some interesting things to take out of his plate discipline statistics.
Last season, Qualls’s O-Swing% spiked to 34.6%, but that’s an anomaly given that it has been consistently between 30 and 31% in years past. However, there are some disturbing trends that have started since he suited up for the Padres. His O-Contact% spiked from something around 50% while with the D’Backs to 70.3% last season and 66.9% in 2010. Qualls is throwing a little less first pitch strikes, and he is not planting pitches inside the zone as often. Hitters are making more contact off of him, and his swinging strike percentage has dropped from 10 to 11% in previous years (remarkable consistency) to around 8.5% with the Padres.
Qualls, however, only walked 2.42 hitters per nine innings last season and had a BABIP of .280. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these numbers, and it should be noted that Qualls had a 7.47 K/9, a 3.20 BB/9, and a .386 BABIP in 2010. There is no doubt that Qualls isn’t as effective as he used to be, but he is still an above-average reliever.
The problem is that Chad Qualls may no longer be of set-up man quality any more. $1.15 million is the amount of money given to 0.2-0.3 WAR relievers, so slightly below average to mediocre relievers should expect to get this kind of money. Qualls has not been worth 0.3 WAR since he played for the D’Backs, but the should improve with a change of scenery.
This was a solid move for the Phillies, because they needed another quality arm to add to their bullpen. Qualls isn’t spectacular, but he is a decent pitcher who should be worth 0.3 WAR (league-average) and has a good shot at being a 0.5 WAR reliever. The Phillies didn’t have many other choices, and spending just over $1 million on a quality arm to re-stock their bullpen is a sound investment.
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