In a 3-year stretch from 2007 to 2009, Chad Qualls was one of the better (and most underrated) relievers in baseball, tossing 208.1 innings of 3.11 ERA ball while posting excellent component ratios (8.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9, and a ground ball rate north of 56%). He served as Brad Lidge's setup man in Houston in 2006 and 2007, and looked poised to take over for the erstwhile Astros and Phillies closer when Pat Gillick and Ed Wade pulled the trigger on this deal in November 2007, but was himself dealt to the Diamondbacks just a month later in a deal for Jose Valverde.
Somewhat ironic, then, that Qualls currently occupies the the middle relief spot that Lidge might himself have possessed had he and the Phillies been able to come to an agreement. As it is, Lidge now finds himself in our nation's capital on a 1-year, $1 million deal, while Ruben Amaro inked Lidge's former bullpen mate to a 1-year, $1.15 million contract inside of a week later.
So what are the Phillies getting in Qualls? Tough to tell, as he's been the poster boy for reliever volatility over the past few years, but let's take a look at what we've got beneath the jump.
Qualls' aforementioned productive stretch from 2007 to 2009 ended with surgery for a patellar dislocation, and while there's no way to say for sure, it certainly seems like he was still suffering from the ill effects during a positively wacky 2010 campaign. Qualls' component ratios took a step back -- 7.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 55.0% GB -- but his ERA jumped to a whopping 7.32 thanks to an unsightly .386 BABIP and a 53.0% strand rate. He was slightly better after a midseason trade to Tampa Bay (Andrew Friedman, ever the arbitrage hunter), but however you try to spin it, 2010 was an unmitigated disaster.
Qualls took a 1-year deal with San Diego in the offseason to try to rebuild some value in Petco Park, and turned in a solid if unspectacular season that saw his walk rate, strand rate, and BABIP normalize while his strikeout rate (as WholeCamels noted in the above linked piece) dropped to just 5.2 per 9 innings.
As far as pitching style goes, Qualls is a sinker/slider righty who throws strikes and induces a lot of grounders. Lefties knocked him around a bit in a small sample in 2011, but he's generally shown little in the way of a platoon split.
So what's the upside here? Best case scenario, being a year further removed from surgery helps Qualls' strikeout rate jump back into the range of 7 to 8 per 9 innings, and he, Antonio Bastardo, and a healthy Jose Contreras form an effective 7th/8th inning three-headed monster ahead of Jonathan Papelbon. Alas, we don't live in a perfect world, and Qualls' signing might portend bad news for the Big Truck's health status. That, and Charlie Manuel's proclivity for favoring veterans solely for their veteran-ness, mean that there's some downside to Qualls' presence on the roster if he gets locked the 8th inning and pitches more like his 2011 or, worst case scenario, 2010 self.