Whether it was the desire to add a more proven Major League arm to the ‘pen or a move made over concerns about Jose Contreras’s rehab, the Phillies and right-hander Chad Qualls agreed to a one-year/$1.15M deal this morning.
The move all but fills out the Opening Day bullpen, and assuming health across the board – something that obviously can’t be taken for granted with this club – the bullpen will likely be constituted as such:
- Jonathan Papelbon
- Antonio Bastardo
- Chad Qualls
- Dontrelle Willis
- Michael Stutes
- Kyle Kendrick
- One of David Herndon/Justin De Fratus/Michael Schwimer/Jose Contreras
It’s something of a makeshift ‘pen, even with the big arm looming at the end. Will Bastardo return to midsummer form? Is Willis going to keep demolishing lefties as a reliever? Can Stutes keep the walks in check, and can Kendrick keep my blood pressure below 180/110?
As for Qualls, what are we to make of a downward-trending strikeout rate? The past four seasons have seen a steady drop in Qualls’s punch-outs per nine, migrating from 8.7 in ’08 to 7.8, 7.5 and 5.2(!) in the following years. Going by Fangraphs’ pitch type data, Qualls is not leaking velocity on his fastball or slider.
One thing that stands out for Qualls over the past two years is the amount of contact batters are making on pitches out of the zone, detailed here. Hitters are chasing Qualls’s stuff more over the past couple of years, but they’re making far more contact, fouling or putting balls in play that, when missed in a two-strike count, would be strikeouts.
The third column in the above picture, denoting movement by Qualls’s sliders across both horizontal and vertical planes, show pretty significant drops from 2010 to 2011. While that’s not entirely conclusive, it seems to lend itself toward the idea that, while Qualls’s velocity may not be fading yet, the crispness of his breaking stuff seems to have lost an edge last season.
Perhaps this is a correctable issue. Qualls is a veteran who knows what he needs to do to prepare for the season. If Rich Dubee and Co. see something in the spring that needs addressing, hopefully it’s corrected then, and Qualls turns into a relative steal for a ‘pen that could use him at his best.