Look past ERA and Chad Qualls can be a free agent bargain

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With a 7.32 ERA in 59 innings split between two teams Chad Qualls had a dreadful season, but most of that can be blamed on a .399 batting average on balls in play that was the worst in all of baseball among the 327 pitchers who logged at least 50 innings.

In fact, Qualls was one of just two pitchers with a batting average on balls in play above .375. Qualls could be unlucky again in 2011 and that number would still probably drop by 40 points, and his career mark is .309.

Thanks to a solid strikeout rate and high percentage of ground balls he posted a nice-looking Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) of 3.91, which is typically a better predictor of future ERA than ERA itself. And both his xFIPs and ERAs were consistently in the 2.75-3.50 range from 2004-2009.

Even while struggling Qualls maintained good velocity on his fastball-slider combo and if teams can avoid being scared off by his ugly ERA there’s a quality setup man to be found in Qualls’ track record and secondary numbers.

Report: Astros, Michael Brantley agree to two-year, $32 million contract

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros and outfielder Michael Brantley are closing in on an agreement for a two-year contract in the $32 million range.

Brantley, 31, played a mostly full season last year for the first time since 2015. He hit .309/.364/.468 with 17 home runs, 76 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases in 631 plate appearances. He made the AL All-Star squad for the third time in his career.

Brantley’s health, though, is why he had to settle for a two-year deal as opposed to a longer contract for a player of his caliber. He will take over in left field. In the event Brantley succumbs to injury woes, the Astros have top prospect Kyle Tucker waiting in the wings.

Update: According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who also reports that the deal is in place, the Astros plan to rotate Brantley between left field, first base, and DH. That opens up some more playing time for Tucker.