Monday, August 13, 2012

Chad Qualls

The Bucs' FO said that they were interested in RH reliever Chad Qualls for the past couple of years, and he said he was considering Pittsburgh before signing with the Phillies this season. Well, the 33 year old finally joined the Pirates during the waning moments of the trade deadline, so both sides should be happy at last.

Qualls went to Narbonne HS in Harbor City, a part of the LA Unified School District. He pitched for the Gauchos in the high finals in 1995-96 at Dodger Stadium and was selected all-league & all-city as a pitcher/first baseman. Los Angeles Harbor College was his next stop, where he earned all-conference pitcher honors while voted the team’s most valuable pitcher. Qualls was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 52nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft as a draft-and-follow player. He didn't sign, but he did move up the food chain.

He transferred to the University of Nevada, where he was named to the Big West Conference's second team in 1999 after going 11-3. In 2000, Qualls anchored the Wolf Pack's starting rotation, tossing seven complete games for UN. That got him drafted in the second round in 2000 by the Houston Astros, who signed him to a $410,000 bonus.

He began his career as a starting pitcher with the Michigan Battle Cats of the Class A Midwest League in 2001 and finished 15-6 with a 3.72 ERA. The youngster was ranked by Baseball America as the Astros #9 prospect after the 2001 season, and was considered the MW league's top prospect. In 2002 and 2003, he pitched for the AA Round Rock Express, of Texas League. There he was just OK, going 14-24 with a 4.10 ERA over the two years and hanging in the Houston Top Ten Prospect rankings, reaching as high as #7 after 2003.

But in 2004, he made the conversion from starter to reliever at AAA New Orleans. Qualls finished the year 3-6 with a 5.57 ERA, starting 14 times and coming out as a fireman 18 times. But it was good enough to get him a call to the show.

On July 22, 2004, Qualls made his big league bow, and never looked back. The rook went 4-0-1 with a 3.55 ERA and spent four seasons setting up Brad Lidge in Space City. He also got his first taste of playoff ball, although his six appearances against Atlanta and St. Louis resulted in an 0-1 slate and 9.00 ERA.

The 'Stros made it to the World Series in 2005 - Pittsburgh is a reunion for Qualls and Wandy Rodriguez - and Chad did his part, appearing in 77 games and putting together a 6-4/3.28 line. He was much sharper in the post season, too, going 1-0 in 9 outings with a 2.07 ERA, getting work in the NLDS, NLCS and WS.

In the next two campaigns, he was called on 160 times for the Astros, tossing 171-1/3 IP for a 13-8-5 record and 3.41 ERA. He also had his minute of infamy. On June 30th, 2007, he blew a five run lead against the Angels and chucked a baseball into the Anaheim Stadium stands in frustration. That little tantrum cost him 3 days and $3,000.

Then it was Merry Christmas. On December 14th, 2007, the Astros traded Qualls to the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with Chris Burke and Juan Gutiérrez, for closer José Valverde. It worked out for Qualls in a couple of ways. To start, he was entering his first arbitration year and agreed to a one year, $1,312,500 contract with Arizona.

Next, he replaced Brandon Lyon as the D-Back closer in mid-September of 2008 and picked up nine saves (he had six during his four years at Houston). Qualls was 4-8 with a 2.81 ERA (still his best) and took the bump 77 times for the fourth straight season of 70+ outings.

Qualls signed a $2.54M contract to return to the Diamondbacks for 2009 as their closer. He had his bumps as a full-time shut-down man, but was 2–2 with a 3.63 ERA, and 24 saves in 29 opps. Qualls' 2009 campaign ended abruptly when he dislocated his patella against the Houston Astros on August 30th.

With a runner at second and two down in the ninth, he deflected a soft liner up the middle with his glove to SS Stephen Drew, who fielded the ball and got the runner. But Qualls collapsed; his kneecap had been twisted to the side of his leg, and he eventually required surgery to get it back where it belonged.

Qualls signed a one year contract with Arizona in 2010 for $4,185,000. He bombed, with a 1-4-12/8.29 slah and a 2.000 WHIP. At the deadline, Qualls was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for a minor leaguer.

The Rays thought that he was a prime rebound candidate who had some mechanical issues after returning maybe too quickly from his knee injury. He would be, but not for them - in 27 games with the Rays Qualls went 2-0 with a 5.57 ERA.

Now a free agent, Qualls signed with the Padres for a 2011 base of $1.5M and a $6M team option for 2012. He pitched well, putting up a 6–8/ 3.51 slash with a team leading 77 appearances. But with Heath Bell closing, the Padres bought out Qualls for $1.05M rather than tender him.
Qualls signed a $1.15 million, one-year free agent deal with the Phillies for 2012, and opened the year as the set up man for Jonathan Papelbon. But Qualls wasn't being a very strong bridge; his ERA was 4.60 ERA in 35 outings. He was shipped to the Yankees on July 1st to replace Cory Wade in the Bronx bullpen. A month there didn't work out too well, either as he was 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA in eight appearances. Qualls was likely going to be the odd man out when Joba Chamberlain returned to the Bronx.

So with about an hour, maybe less, to go on this year's deadline day, Qualls was traded to Pittsburgh for Casey McGehee, who was a good fit with the Pinstripes with A-Rod and Nick Swisher out. He, like Qualls, was a man without a country once Gaby Sanchez was dealt to the Pirates earlier that day.

The Pirate FO, like Tampa Bay's people, see a guy with experience, production and versatility. Qualls has been around nine years and has a career record of 40-35 with 51 saves, a 3.84 ERA and 450 strikeouts in 585 outings and been in the playoffs three different times. The righty has made 70+ appearances six times and a sub-four ERA seven times.

Qualls is 6'5" with an explosive delivery, and the Yankees were working on a couple of tweaks to his motion that Ray Searage is continuing, like quieting the hands and tighting his finish. He sometimes has problems in repeating his mechanics, probably because of his violent delivery.

He's sinker/slider guy. Qualls features a heavy sinker that comes in between the high eighties and low nineties, a hard mid-eighties slider which he uses as his out pitch, and a four seam fastball that clocks in about 93. He's been a career 55%+ ground ball pitcher with an average home run rate, although it's a little high this year. The righty doesn't have a curve or much of a change up, and that explains why he's in the pen instead of starting.

The Pittsburgh FO has shown a pretty good eye for bullpen guys, and Qualls is an arm they've wanted for a couple of years. He's had one terrible year - 2010 - following knee surgery, and the Bucs are betting that he's primed for a bounce back, especially as it seems they've identified what mechanic adjustments he needs. If so, they've got a veteran reliever who's been through a couple of post-season battles and worked in some high leverage situations. 

And so far, that seems to be the case. He's gotten in five games and given up a run on two hits, and looks like the guy that the brass plan to plug into the Brad Lincoln's multiple roles. Qualls can work anywhere in the back end, although he's not likely to become a multi-inning arm. Sometimes it's not just the big deals that end up making a difference.

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