The Yankees have acquired Chad Qualls from the Phillies for a player to be named or $dough. The Phillies designated Qualls for assignment. A roster move has yet to be made to open up a spot, but one assumes Corey Wade may get a chance to enjoy a DL break or tour the smaller towns of the Northeast with the ramblin’ ex-Scranton team.
One of the reasons that building a bullpen is one of the hardest tasks in sports is that relievers are so volatile, or maybe they aren’t volatile but their sample sizes are so small that it’s hard to know what it is that you’re seeing from the statistical record, even if they tend towards extremely good or extremely bad. In fact, if you rank the top 50 relievers in the majors—use any measure you like—in any given season, then look forward a year, you will see roughly half the list turn over.
That is one of the reasons that Mariano Rivera is (was?) such a special pitcher was that he was able to remain on that list for year after year after year.
Oddly enough, if you had made the aforementioned list in the middle of the last decade, you would often have found Chad Qualls there with him. Though rarely entrusted to close games, from 2004 through 2009, Qualls, a groundballer with a low strikeout rate, made a positive contribution to his teams. That’s not the same as saying he was AS valuable as a top closer, only that he bucked trends by providing SOME value every year.
That began to change in 2009, a year in which he missed September due to surgery to repair a dislocated patella and torn meniscus in his left knee, and has only accelerated since. Qualls pitched a lot of innings for the Astros and Diamondbacks from 2005 to 2008 and took likely took its toll, as have changes to his mechanics in the aftermath of the injury. His strikeout rate has declined, lefties have increasingly pounded him, and basically he’s now a 33-year-old let-‘em-hit-it guy with, at least this season, a problem keeping the ball in the ballpark—he’s allowed an unsustainable two home runs per nine innings pitched this year, with lefties slugging .755 against him this year. Ironically, his June was a bit better than his April-May, at least until he got bombed by Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates on the 27th, but not in a way that suggested anything but a few more good hops than he was getting earlier on.
It doesn’t seem like Qualls has a great deal left, but pitchers can change rapidly, he still gets the grounders, and maybe his high rate of home runs per fly ball is a little bit flukey. He has also barely pitched in the American League (he had 27 games with the Rays in 2010), so maybe lack of familiarity will work in his favor. Either way, we’re talking about the last spot in the bullpen and, most likely, low-leverage work, so assuming the player to be named later is not Gary Sanchez—and it won’t be—this is a roll of the dice not getting too excited about in any direction.