The Arizona Diamondbacks announced yesterday that they've re-signed former pitcher Micah Owings to a minor league contract and hope to play him at first base next season.
Here's the backstory on Owings:
In 2007, his rookie year, Owings electrified the Diamondbacks with an above-average ERA (4.30) while hitting .333 and averaging 1.033 OPS (on-base-percentage + slugging) in 34 games. His numbers, stretched over a full season, would have put him behind only Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Carlos Pena as the best hitter in baseball.
The next season, however, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds as part of a package for Adam Dunn, and he hasn't been the same since.
Owings has regressed from being an above-average pitcher his rookie year to putting up three consecutive years of below-league average ERAs.
He was taken out of the Reds' starting rotation and put into the bullpen, where he continued to struggle. Then, Cincinnati cut him last August to make room for their first-round draft choice.
Now he's back with the Diamondbacks, and the hope, as Arizona Republic sports writer Nick Piercoro reported today, is that he will regain his form.
Don't count on it.
Sure, he'll hit some homeruns for the D-Backs. Over the last three seasons, much of it spent inside a bullpen, he slugged 1, 3, and 1 homeruns. Given more at-bats, Owings will certainly bang out a few more homers, especially at Chase Field.
That might not make up for other deficiencies in his game.
Owings' batting average has worsened since 2008, going from .304 to .259 to .214. He doesn't really get on base, either, with his on-base-percentage dwindling from .361 to .281 to .214.
Granted, that's not bad for a pitcher, especially when you factor in his power, but it isn't especially good, either, and it won't make up for his sub-par pitching line.
But when you start to talk about him as a first baseman -- that's when you know there's going to be trouble.
The biggest problem with Micah Owings is the myth that he is a good hitter. Because he is a very big man -- he's listed at 6'5 and 231 pounds -- he will run into some balls and hit them out of the yard. But he does not make contact or take walks. Even worse, he doesn't take many pitches, so he has wound up with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 62-8.
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That's nothing new for the Diamondbacks, who set the major league record for most strikeouts by a team last season, but wasn't the point of trading Mark Reynolds and signing guys like Geoff Blum to put the ball into play a little more often?
Besides that, there's a difference between batting once every five days and batting every day. A hitter's approach has to change with each adjustment pitchers make against him. It's not clear that Owings will be able to make the necessary adjustments to be a good hitter. It's almost unfair to expect him to improve his pitching while figuring out how to hit every day -- and learn a new position!
For this signing to work out, the Diamondbacks will have to make up their mind: is Micah Owings a pitcher or is he a hitter?
But then, what's the team to do if it turns out that he's no longer good at either?