Perhaps no pitcher in baseball experienced worse luck than Chad Qualls last season. After posting two strong seasons in Arizona, Qualls faltered in the closer role and was shipped to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. While the change of scenery helped somewhat, Qualls still finished the season with a 7.32 ERA. The San Diego Padres were willing to look beyond that number, however, signing Qualls to a one year deal on Wednesday. With Qualls looking to build his value, this is a signing that makes perfect sense for both sides.
Qualls’ 2010 season was a complete disaster on the surface. A look at his peripherals, however, suggests that Qualls experienced some terrible luck last season. While Qualls’ inflated BABIP allowed runners to reach base too frequently, he also struggled to keep those hitters from rounding the bases last season. An elevated home run rate combined with a 53.0% LOB% led to a disastrous ERA. Despite the poor numbers on the surface, Qualls actually had the largest discrepancy between his ERA and FIP (minimum 50 innings pitched). Qualls’ 4.14 FIP and 3.91 xFIP point to a pitcher who is bound to improve in 2011.
As if that weren’t enough, Qualls has moved to arguably the best pitcher’s park in the majors. According the Park Factors, Petco severely limits home runs, hits, and doubles. That should allow Qualls to lower his elevated home run rate and BABIP from last season. The cavernous stadium often makes pitchers look much better than they actually perform, which is a major reason to bet on a comeback season from Qualls.
If Qualls is looking to boost his value by signing a one year contract, San Diego was the perfect destination. Due to better luck and park factors, Qualls could easily post one of the strongest seasons of his career in San Diego. If Qualls finds himself on the market next season, he could parlay his success into a long term deal (think Joaquin Benoit or Jesse Crain).
San Diego realized that Qualls is an ideal candidate to bounce back, and protected themselves by adding a club option to the deal. Qualls is set to make $1.5 million this season, but if he pitches well, San Diego can pick up his option for $6 million in 2012. If Qualls continues to struggle, San Diego can simply buy out Qualls for an additional $1.05 million. By employing this strategy, San Diego can capitalize on Qualls’ success or cut bait if he falters.
Essentially, the Padres looked at the numbers and determined Qualls was the perfect bounce back candidate. If Qualls is able to post a strong season, the Padres can choose to renew his contract at a reasonable price. If the Padres don’t want to spend that money, or Qualls fails to post a positive season, San Diego can move on without spending much money. In an off-season marred by controversial signings and overspending, it’s nice to see two sides come together so perfectly.