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Rays Acquire Chad Qualls

Deadline day kicks off with a small trade that might have been a bigger deal in years past. MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports that the Rays have acquired right-handed relief pitcher Chad Qualls from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later. The Rays will pay the remainder of the $1.48 million left on Qualls’s contract.

A lot of things stick out about Qualls’s numbers this year, most of them bad. His ERA sits at 8.29, his WHIP is an even 2, his BABIP is all the way up at .434, and his strand rate is just 51.4 percent — and that’s just by glancing at his dashboard. His WXRL — wins expected above replacement, Baseball Prospectus’s reliever stat — is -2.407, last among 588 qualified major leaguers. He has allowed three of six inherited runners to score. Opponents have taken extra bases on 19 of 61 hits allowed, a career-high ratio. His whiff rate is at a career low by a significant margin. He’s been pulled from a game 15 times — he was the closer until mid-June. I could go on, but the point is clear.

Why the Rays’ interest, then? The move appears to be based on Qualls’s history. He was a good to excellent reliever from 2005 through 2009. While his 2010 has been horrible, he still sports a 4.30 FIP and 3.84 xFIP, and the latter approaches his career mark of 3.48. He has held opponents scoreless in 18 of his appearances, which is not good, but of those 18, 10 were perfect appearances. So maybe they see something in him. He did undergo knee surgery in September, so there is also hope that he’ll heat up a bit in the final two months.

The good news is that his stuff appears in tact. His fastball sits at the same velocity as it has in the past, and he’s using it at just about the same rate. Looking at this PitchFX page, everything appears to be in line with his past performance. It’s a bit dicey comparing PitchFX from year-to-year — I’ve noticed a number of pitchers who have “lost” horizontal movement this year, so there are definitely some consistency issues at play — but there don’t appear to be too many differences for Qualls.

He’ll be joining a Rays bullpen that ranks among the best in the league. They have the third lowest bullpen ERA in the majors, the third lowest OPS against, and the second highest WHIP. With quality setup men like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit in addition to role pitchers like Dan Wheeler and Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays can afford to take a gamble with Qualls. If he returns to his old form he gives the Rays an indomitable bullpen. If he doesn’t, the Rays have other options.