30 Players in 30 Days: Chad Qualls
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, Chad Qualls took a long route to find his way back to the 2015 club. The right-handed reliever first debuted with the Astros in 2004, throwing in 25 games with a 3.55 ERA. Technically, Qualls was a rookie in 2005 when the team reached the World Series, and he was a decent contributor in the bullpen: 3.28 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 79 2/3 IP, 60 Ks.
Qualls would spend two more seasons with the club and posted similar numbers before he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2007 offseason along with Chris Burke for closer Jose Valverde. Including the Diamondbacks, Qualls would spend the next six seasons with seven different teams totaling a 4.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP while striking out 6.8 batters per nine innings. Before the 2014 season, the Astros brought back Qualls on a two-year deal with a team option for 2016.
In 2014, Qualls was the closer for the 92-loss Astros team and converted 19 saves in 25 opportunities with a 3.33 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. The team made moves to strengthen the bullpen and Qualls was moved to a middle relief role in favor of Luke Gregerson.
Qualls actually began the season as the Astros 8th-inning, set-up man and he posted four straight scoreless appearances before surrendering a three-run home run to Mike Trout on April 17 in a 3-3 ball game. The 37-year-old reliever responded well though with six consecutive scoreless appearances and had allowed only the three-run home run and struck out 12 in 9 1/3 innings through May 1.
The toughest stretch for Qualls came between May 22 and June 9. In those six games, he allowed 7 ER on 11 hits in only five innings of high leverage situations; the Astros lost four of them (all by three runs or less). The veteran did not have a stretch worse than that through the rest of the season, but he had fallen short in several situations when the team needed him most, and he was pushed down the bullpen totem pole.
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Most, including myself, still expected Qualls to be a factor for the Astros bullpen in the playoffs, but he made his last appearance with the team on Oct. 4, the last day of the regular season. Qualls came on in the 7th inning of a 3-3 ballgame and gave up a single on the first pitch to A.J. Pollock. Right-handed slugger Paul Goldschmidt stepped into the box, and Pollock stole second and advanced to third on the next pitch as it got away from Jason Castro, but Qualls held a 0-2 advantage. Goldschmidt worked the count full and, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, crushed a two-run shot to deep left field to give the Diamondbacks a 5-3 lead – the eventual final score.
The home run and loss were a disappointing end to Qualls’ regular season, but he was on the Wild Card roster against the New York Yankees. His number was not called upon in the game, though, and to some surprise he was left off of the team’s ALDS roster against the Kansas City Royals.
Qualls finished the 2015 season with his 3rd-worst ERA in his career (4.38), least amount of innings since his 2004 season (49.1), but did have his highest K/9 ratio (8.4) since 2007. It was the big hits and home runs he surrendered in crunch time that lost his trust with the team down the stretch.
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What to expect in 2016
On Nov. 3 the Houston Astros declined to pick up Chad Qualls’ $3.5 million option for 2016. Qualls had expressed previously when joining the Astros for his second stint that he wanted to retire an Astro, but his production or lack thereof in 2015 forced the team’s hand in another direction.
There’s no word yet on Qualls and whether he is pursuing free agency or retiring just yet, but the reliever still has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with good movement. He received a $230,000 buyout from the Astros and still has the ability to be an effective middle reliever, maybe just for a different team.