The Arizona Diamondbacks have just crossed the halfway mark of the 2015 regular season and are a respectable 40-42. The team has significantly improved from where they were a season ago. With Tony La Russa in charge, the 2015 season is a test run of seeing what they have in their young players at the Major League level.
It’s been a decent year for a team in a rebuild. Most of the players have responded well and have shown that they can be an important piece of the future of the team. Of course, with the good comes the bad. There have been a few disappointments, a few guys having an off year, it’s a long season, that is to be expected, but then there’s Chris Owings.
With new manager, Chip Hale, setting out a different lineup almost every night, Owings has found himself playing on a regular basis, whether it be at second base or shortstop.
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Owings is young (23), and looks to be an important piece of the Diamondbacks’ infield, there’s just one problem, he isn’t playing well, at all. He’s not in a slump and it doesn’t seem to be just a rough patch that will blow over either. Now, that’s not to say he’s a bad player, he’s not. He just seems to have lost his way up at the plate.
During the 2014 season, Owings slid awkwardly into home injuring his shoulder. This injury, caused Owings to miss all of July and August. Before his injury, he was playing well, he was hitting and producing at the plate more consistently.
When he returned from injury in September, he wasn’t the same player. His injury was initially diagnosed as a bone bruise, but when the season ended, another look at his shoulder revealed it was more than that. He underwent surgery in October to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
Fast forward to July of the 2015 season, and it would appear that Owings is still feeling the effects of this injury. Not that he is hurt, but because of the injury, he has changed his swing, mainly, his follow through. Owings is now holding onto the bat with both hands opposed to what he was doing, just holding on with his left hand. Doesn’t seem like a big deal right? Well, it’s proving to be a difficult change.
So far, his production at the plate has dropped from 2014. His slash line of .238/.263/.328 is telling, so, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Currently, he’s carrying a -0.4 wins above replacement (WAR) which is a big drop from 2014 when he carried a 1.9 WAR. That, by the way, ranks near the bottom of ML B and is second worst (Aaron Hill -0.5) on the team.
Taking an even deeper look, we see that Owings is finding himself behind in counts quite often. Of his 261 at bats (AB), he’s been behind in the count 118 times, even in the count 93 times and ahead in the count only 50 times.
With the exception of a few players in the league, it’s very hard to produce consistently when you’re constantly having to battle back in an at bat. This is something that is reflected in other stats. His strike out percentage has increased from 20.2% in 2014 to 26.5% in 2015, among Arizona hitters (excluding pitchers) that is second highest on the team (Saltalamacchia 31.8%).
When a player is striking out, and falling behind a majority of the time, they probably aren’t making contact or taking walks, right? Correct, Owings’ contact percentage has dropped from 78% to 72% from last year. His walk percentage has decreased as well, its fallen from 4.8% in 2014 to 3.6% in 2015.
What does all this mean? Well, when you consider the fact Owings’ swing percentage has increased from 49.5% to 55.8%, it tells us that he is being too aggressive at the plate and is having discipline issues.
His plate discipline problem coupled with learning a new swing is making for a very forgettable year for the young second baseman. It’s costing the team at the Major League level.
In an interview with Nick Piecoro of AZ Central Sports, Owings said something interesting, he was told by doctors that he wouldn’t be feeling 100% until about July. So, if they went into this season knowing he wasn’t going to be the same player, why rush him? Why not start him in the minor leagues until he has found his way at the plate? Because again, 2015 is for evaluating talent. There was no need to rush anyone back into the lineup if they were unable, especially for someone coming off of an injury.
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He is only 23, there is still plenty of time for him to get back on the right track, but until then, why not give another player a chance? The Diamondbacks appear to be committed to Owings, and that’s fine. They still can be if he were to be sent down to the minors to work on his problems. Besides, Arizona has done that with several other players this year, Owings should be no different.
Brandon Drury would be a good candidate to replace Owings if he were to be sent down. Calling up Drury would bring a little competition to the mix. When your job is on the online, you’re going to work harder to get better. It certainly lit a fire under Tuffy Gosewisch when the Diamondbacks picked up Jarrod Saltalamacchia off of waivers earlier in the season.
A Drury call up wouldn’t be solely about competition though. He was just recently promoted from Double A Mobile to Triple A Reno. This season in Mobile, Drury carried a slash line of .278/.306/.370. During his brief 14 games in Reno, his slash line has improved, .388/.456/.510. Now, those numbers are likely to come down a bit, but they are still an upgrade over the struggling Owings.
The 2015 season is about evaluating talent, and right now, there is a glaring problem for the Diamondbacks. A demotion to the minor leagues would not be the team giving up on Owings. He would be able to find his way back offensively and Arizona would get a chance to evaluate talent of another prospect.
If Drury continues to produce at Reno and Owings continues to struggle, something is going to have to give, and with the track these two players are on, it’ll be sooner rather than later.