Their first season in the American League is something most members of the Houston Astros would like to forget. It was especially tough for the men in Bo Porter‘s bullpen. With an ERA of 8.72 (hyperbole) and 250 blown saves (hyperbole) the Astros had the most ineffective bullpen in recent memory (not hyperbole). In an attempt to right the ship, the club has brought in a handful of veteran relievers this offseason.
Now, Porter is hoping the 2014 version of the ‘pen falls into place this spring. The Astros skipper says finding a closer (or two) is a top priority. Chad Qualls, who started his career with the Astros in 2004 and has 51 career saves to his credit, has been mentioned as a possible frontrunner for the job.
Josh Fields, who got the most save opportunities after Jose Veras was traded last July, is also in the mix. Porter talks about wanting someone with experience pitching in the ninth inning. Although 2013 was his rookie season, Fields has worked as a closer since college. That could be viewed as experience — right?
Another thing that Qualls has going for him is his tendency to get ground balls. Chad posted a career best 63.3 ground ball percentage last season and has a career mark of 57.8%. Fields is more of a strikeout pitcher. But when batters do make contact against him, they are more prone to hit fly balls (51.5%). Fields also produced a 15.7% HR/FB rate in his rookie season. That’s not the kind of number you are looking for from a closer.
Jesse Crain (11.29 K/9 IP and 0.74 ERA in 36 & 2/3 innings last season) is probably the guy Porter would prefer to have pitching in the ninth. But the right-hander is still recovering from biceps surgery and won’t be ready for Opening Day. Looking at Porter’s quote from Evan Drellich’s article, I’d have to say Qualls is the early favorite.
"It’s the ability to induce weak contact. When you look at the ability to come in and close out a game, it’s not always the power guy that’s going to strike a guy out. They have to have the ability to induce ground balls. That if they do get in trouble, they have something that can get them out of trouble."
But a lot can happen between now and April 1. We’ll just have to wait and see. Who knows? Maybe someone else will surprise us.
Josh Fields (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)