Chad Qualls (Pray for Squalls?)

To give credit were credit may or may not be due, I stole this headline from the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector. What is twitter good for if not for some good ole’ fashioned idea-stealing, even if Paul Bourdett and I have been arguing about Chad Qualls since spring training. In fact, Spector, Amanda Rykoff, Jay Jaffe and Dan Wade all created the somewhat-facetious hash tag #ChadQuallsSupportGroup after last night’s implosion by the Arizona closer.

With the “Follow Friday” portion of the article complete (way to mix formats!), it’s time to wonder out loud if last night’s work really was an implosion, if Qualls is suited for the closer role long-term, if he may be the next to lose his role, and who might take the mantle from him. In order.

First, it’s important to realize that this may be much ado about nothing. Yes, Qualls had a bad night. Here’s the play by play:

– R. Furcal walked
– R. Furcal to second on wild pitch
– M. Kemp flied out to center
– A. Ethier grounded out to second, R. Furcal to third
– M. Ramirez singled to shallow left, R. Furcal scored
– J. Loney singled to center, M. Ramirez to second
– C. Blake singled to shortstop, M. Ramirez to third, J. Loney to second, M. Ramirez scored, J. Loney to third, C. Blake to second on shortstop S. Drew’s fielding error
– R. Martin intentionally walked
– R. Johnson hit for R. Ortiz
– R. Johnson grounded out to shortstop

That Casey Blake ‘single’ was actually, by many accounts, an error by Stephen Drew. If Drew doesn’t sail the ball over first base on that play, the inning is over and Qualls has two saves in three chances and fewer backbiters. Otherwise, he was mostly just guilty of a little wildness.

The fact remains that Qualls is walking over six per nine, only striking out four per nine, and has struggled now through spring training and the opening weeks of the season. In fact, if you extend this period back to June of last year and include spring training, Qualls has had a stretch in which he’s put up a 5.00 ERA, 1.27 WHIP with 5.8 K/9 and 1.4 B/9 rates. He’s also blown six saves in 19 chances over that time. It’s not a great record in what amounts to a significant amount of time for a closer. Because his control is usually so spectacular, and has been even over this mediocre stretch, it’s tempting to say that the control will return and that the low strikeout rate is not an issue (especially considering his better 7.3 K/9 career rate). However, he also has 10 hits per nine innings over this time, so he’s been very hittable. Can you afford to have a closer that only punches out a half a guy per inning and gives up a hit per inning? Since the time period includes more than half of last year, we can’t just blame this on his offseason knee surgery either. Perhaps it has more to do with the drop in velocity and effectiveness of his slider.

In any case it’s an open question that will ultimately be decided by the Arizona management. But blowing six saves in 19 chances is not going to keep you your job very long. Fantasy owners are right to go looking for his possible replacement, Juan Gutierrez, on the waiver wires today. Since he figured things out at the beginning of July last year, the Arizona youngster has put up a 2.33 ERA, 0.99 WHIP with 6.8 K/9 and 3.49 B/9 rates. He’s got great stuff and has been proving himself, and he has been making good progress defeating his main weakness (walks). It may not be long until we see him take the mantle from Qualls. Don’t drop an established closer, but if you can make room for Gutierrez, now is the time to do so.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

Does C.Perez qualify as an ‘established closer’?