Chad Qualls (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
Moneyball was born out of necessity. Billy Beane did not have an unlimited budget, so he needed to exploit the market. What followed, was Beane evaluating which skills were undervalued by the market, and proceeding accordingly.
On a smaller scale, that is what the Astros are doing when building their bullpen this off-season. Well in fairness, they are essentially starting from scratch. Current budget limitations hinder Houston from just going out into the market place and spending $10 million a year for a closer and $3-$5 million a year each for set up men. Value needs to be found.
As it stands now, there are seven new names in the mix for the bullpen entering 2014. Obviously not all of them will make the team, but at least there are options and some depth.
Attempting to plan out the back end of a rotation and a bullpen is not an exact science. You never can have enough options. But there is more to it than simply just having options. What is needed, are a few pitchers that stand out above the crowd.
At first glance, it would not appear that this would be the case for Chad Qualls or Matt Albers. While both have a solid track record of being reliable options out of the bullpen (Qualls also has experience as a closer from 2009 and 2010), neither come with a lot of name recognition. And this is something I am alright with.
Relievers generally are recognized for one of two things; saves or strikeouts. Everything else gets under appreciated. But there are multiple ways to evaluate relievers.
I did a search on Fangraphs where I looked at all pitchers that threw a minimum of 50 innings in 2013 that was filtered by Ground Ball Percentage. Albers ranked fourth with 63.8% and Qualls came in eighth at 63.3%.
Obviously prolific relievers that can strike out the side on nine pitches are always welcome, but there also situations where a ground ball is needed. If the ball is being hit on the ground, then there is that much less of the chance for a home run or extra base hit. Also there a lot of times that a reliever enters the game with runners already on base. A simple ground ball can eliminate the threat.
The addition of Qualls and Albers makes the bullpen a lot better and more reliable heading into 2014. But with that, we have another issue. The pressure will certainly be on the Astros’ infield, Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Villar specifically, to improve their defensive reliability next season. But at least things are looking up for the much maligned bullpen.