Joe Maddon has an affinity for letting his starters try to go one more inning or one more batter. How many times have we seen Joe let the starter start an inning and then as soon as a runner or two reaches base he lifts them? Sometimes it seems like too many. Confirmation bias makes you remember the times they come out and struggle as opposed to having a firm grip on the costs or benefits of a tired starter versus a fresh middle reliever. Regardless of what we think of the strategy, Maddon will continue to employ it; and this makes it extremely beneficial to have a reliever who can come in and quell the flames of a potential rally. As such we want relievers that come to the mound without their gascan.On the year Chad Qualls has seemingly done quite the opposite; his stint this year in Arizona made his slider look like a match and sinker the proverbial gascan to stoke the opposition's flaming bats. Interestingly enough though, it seems Qualls' is built for this role.
Coming in with men on base is a scary proposition. There's marginal room for error, and generally the chances of a game changing plate appearance or pitch are very high. In general, you want your fireman to come in and induce a stikeout or ground ball for the potential double play. This is where Chad excels. Since 2008, the league average for GB% is 45.2% and the percent of plate appearances that end in a punch out is 17.9%. Qualls is above league average in both and by a pretty wide margin. Qualls strikes out 21.2% of the batters he faces and induces a ground-ball on 58.3% of balls put in play. That's an impressive 63.4% of plate appearances where he gets the two best possible outcomes. How does that stack up against the league? Below is a table of the top 15 guys in getting a ground-ball or strike-out:
That's a pretty good list. As you can see these are guys the Rays really target in the bullpen with 4 current or former Rays relievers making the list. With the defense the Rays have in the infield, it makes even more sense to employ these high ground-ball types. The Rays currently employ 2 of the top groundball/strikeout machines of each handedness. No matter the base, out, batter-handedness, Maddon can feel fairly confident bringing in a pitcher that matches up perfectly for the groundball or strikeout. This ability really allows Maddon to employ one of his favorite tactics. Got to hand it to the front office for making the under the radar move to help make the team more complete.