So, while we debated what to do at shortstop all winter and everyone had their say, the Diamondbacks chose Chris Owings as the man in the end. With the losses, poor pitching and occasional #TRUMBOMB, it seems as if we haven’t really discussed how the rookie shortstop has adjusted to full time big league life. The short answer: fairly well.
He’s made his mistakes in the field and hasn’t turned heads with the glove like Didi Gregorius did a year ago, but he’s making the plays he should, and this is what was expected. A quick look at his Inside Edge Fielding stats at FanGraphs shows that he’s been solid on routine plays but hasn’t made the tough the ones. That’s acceptable if not exciting.
But Owings wasn’t chosen for his fielding, he’s supposed to hit, and that’s what he’s done so far. He’s currently triple-slashing .290/.343/.339 over his first 21 games, which is solid for a guy who’s just 22-years old and finding his big league footing. The concern over his major league ability has usually been his plate discipline, not his batting average, though. His strikeout rate (22.1%) us a but high but not all that concerning while his walk rate (7.4%) is actually better than most anticipated. There’s clearly a ton of time for these rates to trend in different directions, but so far, there’s nothing here to be overly concerned about.
Where concern should lie is in his lack of power and the luck he’s been afforded thus far. His .048 ISO would rank 192nd in baseball if he had enough at-bats to qualify. To be fair, he’s never been expected to hit for a ton of power, but this is definitely below expectations. For reference, Didi Gregorius put up a .120 ISO last season. In essence, Owings has had a Pennington-esque power output so far. The scouting report, however, suggests that the gap power should show itself in the majors and while he only has three doubles to date, I’d expect that to increase. He’s yet to hit his first big league dinger, too, but that’s probably just a matter of time. Still, the lack of power is something we should monitor going forward, because if it doesn’t come, his value is decreased. I’m not saying it won’t come, but keep an eye on it (he’ll probably hit five doubles and a homer this weekend now that I brought it up).
While Owings may have been unlucky in the power department so far, he’s been extremely lucky in terms of batting average on balls in play. He’s sporting a .383 BABIP to date, something that cannot sustain itself. That’ll fall and so will his rate of hits. When the regression comes, he’s going to have to rely on getting on base (more walks) and putting some balls in the gap (more power) to make up for it. The defense will have to maintain, if not improve, as will the strikeout rate. ZiPS projects him to dip pretty hard over the rest of the season and while I’d say that I respectfully disagree with just how hard it’s predicting him to fall, all of the ingredients are present for precipitous drop in offensive production.
When this comes, as signs suggest it will, what kinds of questions will we be asking? Gregorius is currently tearing it up AAA and while that’s exactly what he should do, as Owings did last year, will we re-open the shortstop debate? I certainly hope we don’t have to. I’d rather see Owings continue to hit and grow into the roll as an every day major league contributor.
Along similar lines, I’d also like to see Gregorius traded because if Owings really is that guy, then we don’t need him. Maybe it’s watching Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer pitch well, but I’m still cautious of giving up on prospects too soon. With that said, the team has made it’s choice and Didi is just blowing in the wind down in Reno. It would be hard to imagine a scenario where he reclaims the job and become the team’s shortstop for the foreseeable future. The D’backs have made up their mind, for better or worse it seems.
So, not to be the bearer of bad news, but I’d be surprised to see Owing continue at his current pace. I don’t, however, see as large of a decline from his as ZiPS and other projection systems project. The power will come and at the end of the day, I think he’s a 2-3 win player, similar to Didi’s value but just in a different form, which is what we’ve said all along. The team has chose offense over defense, and that’s fine. Chris, however, has to keep up the offense despite what certain indicators might suggest, because if that goes, so does his value.
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