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Phillies Player Review: Chad Qualls

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, November 01, 2012 10:37 AM | Comments: 15
2012 Player Reviews

I was very tempted to make this a joke review. I wouldn’t have written an intro or offered any insight and would have instead simply left a bolded “Grade F… no explanation needed.” Qualls was the most maligned Phillies player this season and was out the door by the end of June. He blew a number of games in a limited amount of time and his entrances became associated with doom.

However, upon reflecting on his season, I realized that Qualls is a solid proxy for a discussion of certain statistical and analytical concepts. Consider this a hybrid review — I’m still giving him an F, so let’s get that out of the way right now, but he is worth discussing for important reasons that go beyond his cringe-inducing performance in a Phillies uniform.

Qualls’ time with the Phillies serves as the perfect foray into discussions of: incorporating context, ERA and run prevention, the difference between per-9 and per-plate appearance statistics, and the need to dig deeper and consider all pertinent information in any analysis. At least he gave us something.

This sight often made me want to vomit.

While this seemed like a low-risk move, given Qualls’ minimal salary on a one-year deal, his turning into a pumpkin shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Qualls posted a 7.32 ERA two years ago, in part because he located his pitches poorly and gave the opposition a better chance to make solid contact. Last season, his ERA was beautified by the friendly confines of PETCO Park. However, his FIP was 10% worse than the league and he finished with -0.2 WAR.

On paper, relievers with solid strikeout, walk and groundball rates should be heavily pursued. Qualls is still a 55% groundball pitcher, but his strikeout and walk rates have worsened in recent years. While his 2007 production should have no bearing on what the 2012 Phillies should have expected, contextually, it’s important to note that his peripherals were declining.

Before digging deeper into these concepts, let’s first relive his Phillies tenure. Qualls logged 31.1 innings over 35 games and finished with a 4.60 ERA and 5.65 FIP. Of his total -0.4 WAR on the season, -0.6 came with the Phillies. He posted respectable K/9 and BB/9 rates of 5.5 and 2.6, respectively, but served up home runs at a ridiculous pace of 2.01 per nine innings. Though he kept the ball on the ground at a 54.5% clip, thereby reducing the number of flyballs he allowed, those flyballs turned into homers at a 25% rate. Both his HR/9 and HR/FB rate with the Phillies would have been among the very worst in the sport.

Among relievers with 30+ innings, only Francisco Cordero (2.06) and Livan Hernandez (2.00) would have been in the same HR/9 stratosphere if Qualls’s time with the Phillies appeared on the leaderboards. His 25% HR/FB would have only been topped or matched by Hisashi Iwakuma (27.3%) and Marc Rzepczynski (25.0%).

An obvious response to his astronomical home run rates is that his strikeout and walk rates were stable and the home run rate would regress, but that ignores the other side of the equation: Qualls’ pitch location was terrible. Players weren’t golfing excellent pitches into the stands. They were belting elevated sinkers thrown middle-in. Players can’t ‘regress’ in the way we commonly think of the concept if they continually put themselves in positions to fail.

His poor run prevention, largely fueled by his propensity for serving up dingers, manifested itself in blown leads, blown ties, or allowing the opposition to extend their lead and keep the Phillies out of the game. Baseball-Reference player game logs have two columns at the end that describe the situation a pitcher entered into, and the situation when he exited. Qualls blew five leads for the Phillies in his 35 appearances. There were also three games in which the Phillies were down by a run or two when he entered, and down by four or five runs when he exited, which is almost just as bad.

Getting back to his strikeout rate, I would even argue that it was less impressive than it was generally perceived. Contextually, his strikeouts per plate appearance was low for his K/9. The two might seem like different representations of the same stat, but there is more than meets the eye here. Using plate appearances as the denominator more accurately reflects production than using innings.

If we have two pitchers, both of whom pitch one inning and strike out one batter, they both finish with 9.0 K/9s. What if the first pitcher, in addition to striking one batter out, allowed two hits and a walk, while the second pitcher has a 1-2-3 inning? Suddenly, both pitchers have the same strikeout rate on a per-inning basis, but they certainly didn’t achieve that production in the same manner. From a per-PA standpoint, Pitcher #1 faced six batters and has a 16.7% strikeout rate. Pitcher #2 is at 33%.

Why does this matter for Qualls? Well, because his 13.6% K/PA was low for someone with his K/9. The average K/PA among all relievers with 30+ innings and a K/9 between 5.0 and 6.0 was 15.1%. If the range is between K/9s of 4.5 and 6.0, the average is still 14.4%, well above Qualls’s 13.6% with the Phillies. This is an example of both digging deeper and incorporating context, which is imperative lest we accept inaccurate determinations of the value of certain data points.

Qualls pitched poorly for the Phillies and was a major reason for the poor bullpen stats the team posted as a unit. However, that gets to another topic for another day — using full-season stats to evaluate the Phillies’ bullpen isn’t truly accurate, as some of the worst pitchers were gone by the middle of the year, while their stats weren’t.

Qualls gets an F for his partial season with the Phillies, but his season is an A+ example of why certain concepts are very important to consider when evaluating performance. That supposedly clever turn of phrase also gets an F.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    lol

    That’s all. Just lol.

    I mean, what else can you say?

    And maybe the best message I’ve ever put up on a message board. Thanks for the set up.

    I mean, what else can you say?

    Maybe mention that he said he untapped a mechanical flaw 2,000 earned runs ago? What the hell else is there to say? He cured the flaw. Yeah, right. Chad was the god of hell fire, and he brought us fire.

     
  • Posts: 0 DCmikey

    Blown away by all the stats. Really, really good write up. But can we save that for another pitcher- like Paps stats when he has a 2 or more run lead in saves and when he has a 1 or fewer run lead.

    Great article!!!! But I skimmed this one bc it was about Qualls. He was deleted from my mind in June

     
    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      Lemme get this straight. You SKIMMED the article, but apparently read enough of it to label it GREAT.

      Poor “great.” She gets so overused.

      By the way. You should get personalized license plates. “GR8POST”

       
  • Posts: 0 George

    I found this article very interesting. I had no idea that Qualls was primarily a sinkerball guy. Most of what I read about him when the Phils signed him was that he’d fail in CBP due to a flyball rate that wouldn’t play well in a small ballpark. Maybe a lot of experts didn’t read his groundball stats, or somewhere along the line, HR/FB % got twisted into “too many flies.”

    Whatever, the man’s no longer a Phil, wasn’t one for very long, and somehow I feel we’re beating a dead horse.

     
  • Posts: 4609 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Excellent posting Eric. This definitely changes the way I will view the K/9 stat from here on out. Does fangraphs use K/PA in their “K%”? Or is that something different?

     
    • Posts: 0 George

      It’s an interesting breakdown, but might not say much about pitchers like Nolan Ryan (at least in his earlier years). But it certainly says something about those borderline types with good stuff but poor location.

       
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      Lefty — yep, K% = K/PA at Fangraphs. If you use the Dashboard feature there, I’d suggest replacing K/9 and BB/9 with the /PA stats. In many cases there won’t be a huge diff between K/9 and K/PA, but as we saw with Qualls, it did matter. His K/PA was more indicative of like a 3.8-4.0 K/9 not the 5.5 K/9 we saw.

       
  • Posts: 0 George

    I forgot to mention my total agreement with not evaluating the Phils’ bullpen by using the full season stats. The second half pen was a completely different beast than the first half pen. People tend to forget that.

     
  • Posts: 120 Dave P

    Avatar of Dave P

    Hindsight is 20/20, but let me just post this article so we can get a laugh -

    http://philliesnation.com/archives/2012/02/phillies-fans-get-excited-about-chad-qualls/

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      Though, for the record, I trashed the signing at Fangraphs initially.

       
    • Posts: 431 Ian Riccaboni

      Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

      I definitely wasn’t the only one – look at those comments! Oh well, win some, lose some, and sometimes you get excited about Chad Qualls.

       
    • Posts: 0 George

      Har, har. Just goes to show how much we really know as fans. I never got excited one way or the other about Qualls, but I was wrong in saying he was a bargain. $1.2 million is chump change these days when it applies to baseball, but Qualls, as it turned out, wasn’t even worth that, and I probably should have guessed that he wouldn’t be. Then again, Amaro and all those scouts he gets advice from flubbed it, too.

       
  • Posts: 0 brooks

    Eric, a whole lot of information but summed up by one phrase – “He STUNK”.
    Glad to see him go.

    Honestly, I did not know what to expect when he first came along, a workhorse we were told, a trooper who would give us a lot of innings with a ‘palatable’ ERA in the mid 3′s (not unlike we have seen in the past) – mostly, a body, a filler someone to give us maybe 2 innings for long relief.

    He was bad and just got worse. You summed it up perfectly with this “.. his entrances became associated with doom”

     
  • Posts: 0 DCmikey

    @KenBland, yes as I was reading it, it became an overload of stats and for a person I was and am not interested in, it was blah to me. However, I did think it was great bc of how much effort was put into it. And it was in fact very informative. Just not my cup of tea. How is that Mr Ken Bland?

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      I said early on that Qualls was getting an F, but that it was important to use his season to discuss other very important analytical concepts to understand. That was basically a cue that if someone wasn’t interested in those concepts, then they can stop reading. These stats were centered on Qualls, but the concepts apply to everyone, not just him. That was the entire point of doing the review this way. I’m glad you read it even if it isn’t your cup of tea because, without trying to generalize or insult, so please don’t read it that way, you’re exactly the type of person I think a post like this can benefit.

       
 
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