The Houston Astros finally made their first bullpen move, signing Chad Qualls to a two-year deal. The deal is worth $6 million over two years, and the Astros have a club option for a third year for $3.5 million.
Chad Qualls rejoins the team that drafted him back in 2000. Qualls was a quality (no pun intended) reliever for the Astros for three seasons during the Astros winning years. Here’s what Jeff Luhnow had to say about Qualls.
“As we got into the offseason, we targeted relievers, and he was very close to the top of the list of guys that we thought would be a good fit for us. He’s a guy that gets a lot of ground balls, had a good year last year. Mid-90s fastball with a very effective slider, and we did a lot of work on him. He’s been very durable over the years and really feel like he made some changes in 2013 that got him back to the form he was when he was at his most effective point. So we feel good about bringing him in back to Houston. He was here during our peak last time through.”
Qualls has a 3.76 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in his 10 seasons in the MLB. After struggling in 2012 with a 5.33 ERA in 60 appearances, Qualls improved drastically in 2013, cutting his ERA in half to a 2.61 ERA in 66 appearances. From Evan Drellich’s (Houston Chronicle) article on the Qualls signing, the Astros are encouraged that he could continue where he left on in 2013.
Perhaps most encouraging was the rise of Qualls’ strikeout rate, up to 7.1 batters per nine innings — right in line with his career average after a drop-off the last two years.
“We looked at a lot of video and we looked at all the information we have, and we believe he made a few mechanical changes that allowed him to get back to really pitching from his strengths,” Luhnow said. “We should be able to maintain those, so we’re comfortable that the success that he had in 2013 is going to be continued.”
Qualls’ sinker sat at 94 mph last season, according to BrooksBaseball.net, which is the hardest he’d thrown on average since 2007. His strikeout pitch is an 88-mph slider, and when batters decided to swing at it this season, they missed it one-third of the time.
The Astros are likely not done adding to their bullpen, and you could expect them to sign another reliever or two in the coming week.