Tag: Chad Qualls

Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch Astros

2015 Preview: Houston Astros


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: Are the Astros ready to contend?

This is Year 5 of the Astros’ scorched-earth rebuilding plan that has seen them lose 106, 107, 111, and 92 games while overhauling the front office, firing a pair of managers, ditching veterans, and stockpiling young talent. Last year’s 70-92 record was the fourth-worst in baseball and might suggest it’ll be another long season in 2015, but the Astros made big strides in the second half and added plenty of veteran help via trades and signings this offseason.

Clearly general manager Jeff Luhnow believes the Astros are ready to take a big step forward.

Houston went 34-38 over the final 72 games of the season, including 20-20 for the final six weeks. And then they started adding pieces. They traded for slugger Evan Gattis, remodeled the bullpen by signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, picked up a starting shortstop by bringing Jed Lowrie back into the fold as a free agent, added Colby Rasmus to the outfield and Luis Valbuena to the infield, traded for a backup catcher in Hank Conger, and gave the rotation depth a boost with Dan Straily and Roberto Hernandez.

None of those are championship-making moves, certainly, but most of them were made with the short-term good of the team in mind and together they clearly signal a shift from full-on rebuilding mode to actually building something. Last season’s five best players–Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Chris Carter, Collin McHugh–are all still around and all 28 years old or younger. And stockpiling young talent in the minors has already started to show some dividends, with another wave of high-end prospects on the way soon led by back-to-back No. 1 picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.

Houston will be better in 2016 than in 2015 and better still in 2017, but the Astros have a chance to be a .500 team this season if a few things break right for them.

What else is going on?

  • Houston’s bullpen ranked dead last in baseball last season with a 4.80 ERA. Luhnow tried to address that problem in a huge way by making serious runs as big-ticket free agent relievers David Robertson and Andrew Miller. Those attempts fell short, but the Neshek-Gregerson duo is a damn good consolation prize. They combined to throw 140 innings with a 1.99 ERA and 127/24 K/BB ratio last season and both right-handers have a career ERA under 3.00. Toss in Chad Qualls and Josh Fields from the right side and Tony Sipp and Joe Thatcher from the left side and the Astros’ bullpen may actually be a strength.
  • Dallas Keuchel came out of nowhere last season to rank as one of the league’s best left-handers, throwing 200 innings with a 2.93 ERA and winning a Gold Glove award. He was the easy pick to start Opening Day and his ability to avoid turning back into a pumpkin is one of the biggest keys to the Astros’ season. Keuchel is a ground-ball machine and gets a decent number of strikeouts, which is always a winning combo, but prior to 2014 he had a 5.20 ERA in the majors and a 4.74 ERA at Triple-A through age 25.
  • Springer immediately lived up to the hype in his (injury-shortened) debut, but fellow top prospect Jon Singleton struggled mightily by hitting .168 with 134 strikeouts in 95 games during his first taste of the big leagues. Singleton cracked Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list four times and seems all but certain to hit for big-time power eventually, but his lowly .241 batting average at Triple-A combined with tons of strikeouts mean he still has a lot to prove as an all-around hitter.
  • Lots of power and lots of strikeouts is basically the story of the Astros’ entire lineup, even more so than last year when they led the AL in strikeouts and ranked third in homers. And the amazing thing is that Altuve had the most plate appearances on the team with 707–a hundred more than anyone else–and struck out just 53 times. It may not always be pretty and will lead to some extended slumps, but for the most part strikeouts are just a type of out rather than something to be avoided at all costs and Luhnow sacrificing contact in the name of adding elite power at a time when it’s particularly tough to find is an intriguing strategy. They could top 200 homers for the first time since 2001 and just the third time in franchise history.

Prediction: Another step forward to 75-plus wins, another avoidance of last place, and enough progress to convince everyone they’ll contend for the playoffs in 2016.

Astros want to sign one of the top free agent closers

David Robertson

MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports that the Astros are “going hard” to get one of the top free agent closers. They currently have David Robertson, Sergio Romo, and Andrew Miller (who could close) on their wish list.

The Astros finished with the worst bullpen ERA in baseball this past season at 4.80. Chad Qualls led the team in saves with 19 along with a 3.33 ERA and a 43/5 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings, but obviously, the Astros feel they could do even better.

The Astros improved 19 games from their 111-loss 2013 season, and they’ll look to make further progress next season in the next phase of their rebuilding process under GM Jeff Luhnow.

Athletics halt losing streak, walk off in the ninth against the Astros

Jed Lowrie

Life has been tough for the Athletics in the second half, having lost seven of their last eight and 17 of 24 entering today’s game against the Astros. Up as many as six games in first place in the AL West, they sat six games back of the Angels going into Saturday. The flashy trades for Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester haven’t paid dividends in the way GM Billy Beane anticipated.

Perhaps Saturday’s win, in which they erased a two-run deficit to walk off winners in the bottom of the ninth inning, is what they need to turn their season around. Starter Scott Kazmir no-hit the Astros through the first five innings, but faltered in the sixth, allowing a two-run single to Jose Altuve. The Astros tacked on another run in the seventh to make it 3-1.

Starter Scott Feldman took the hill in the bottom of the ninth to attempt a complete game win and send the A’s to yet another loss, but Josh Donaldson led off with a single. After Adam Dunn lined out, Derek Norris added a single of his own, sending Donaldson to third base. Closer Chad Qualls entered to attempt to put out the fire, but Josh Reddick belted a double to center field to tie the game at 3-3. Shortly thereafter, Jed Lowrie slapped a single into left field and a scampering Reddick narrowly beat a weak throw home by Alex Pressly, scoring the winning run.

If the A’s are able to stop the bleeding from here on out, you can bet your bottom dollar many will point to Saturday’s come-from-behind victory as a turning point.

The Tigers claimed Chad Qualls on revocable waivers

Chad Qualls Getty

Yesterday Chad Qualls was claimed off revocable waivers by an unidentified team. Today the team has been identified: the Detroit Tigers.

Qualls has posted a 3.07 ERA and 38/5 K/BB ratio over 44 innings while going 14-for-17 in save opportunities. He’s under contract for $3 million next season and there’s a $3.5 million club option. It’s doubtful, however, that the Astros would simply let him go on waivers, and they are on record saying that it would take a nice haul in return for them to let him go.

The Tigers, of course, have perpetual bullpen problems and have decided that throwing anyone who has ever sniffed the eighth or ninth inning at the problem is the best way to solve it. It may be the only way for them solve it, actually, although it’s unclear whether they have anything Houston wants in return.

The teams have until sometime tomorrow to complete a trade. Though the Astros could, of course, pull Qualls off waivers at any time.