Chad Qualls gave up two more home runs yesterday afternoon, the fifth and sixth he has allowed on the year in 19 innings of work. His ERA jumped to 4.82 in what has been a forgettable season for the veteran right-hander. The Phillies took a relatively cheap flier on Qualls and it simply hasn’t worked out, at least thus far. At $1.15 million, it isn’t the kind of costly mistake that will set the franchise back for years.
Still, his demise was predictable. Paul Boye noted, when the Phillies signed him, that opposing hitters were making contact more often and of better quality. That has held true in his 19 innings. One out of every four batted balls is a line drive (career average 18%), his ground ball rate is down to one out of every two batted balls (career average 58%), and more than one out of every three fly balls has been a home run (career average 14%). Qualls’ walk rate is also at a career-high 8.2% and his strikeout rate is the second lowest of his career at 15.3%, making for his first career K-BB ratio below 2.0.
His xFIP and SIERA are at 3.93 and 3.76, respectively, painting a more optimistic picture of his performance to date and the performance we are likely to see going forward. Indeed, a 37.5% HR/FB is unsustainable. However, so is his 88% strand rate. Five of the six home runs Qualls has allowed have come with the bases empty even though he’s given up 17 non-HR hits and walked seven more.
One possibility is to use Qualls exclusively as a ROOGY — a right-handed one-out guy. Over his career, he does not have much of a platoon split, but he has fared worse and worse against left-handed hitters as his career has gone on. This year, he has a 5.24 xFIP against them compared to 2.79 against right-handers. Additionally, lefties have accounted for five of the six home runs he has allowed.
Due to the relative lack of depth in the bullpen, the Phillies can’t simply kick Qualls to the curb. They can, however, reduce his role in the bullpen by using others in medium- to high-leverage situations until he shows improvement. With an offense that has been hit or miss and a starting rotation now in limbo with injures to Roy Halladay and Vance Worley, the Phillies can’t afford to be inefficient with their bullpen any longer.