Owings — 8-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 33 games (four starts) for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season — signed a split contract with the Padres, according to a team source, which means he could begin the 2012 season in the minors.
General manager Josh Byrnes said in a team release Owings will vie for either a spot in the starting rotation or in the bullpen. But if Owings starts in the minors — he has two minor-league options left — he will be paid an increased minor-league salary instead of the major-league deal. The deal also doesn’t allow Owings to opt out of his contract if he doesn’t break camp with the Padres.
After a solid rookie season on the mound in 2007, Owings struggled from 2008-2010, posting a 5.59 ERA, 1.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.2 HR/9. Last year, however, in 63 innings primarily out of the Arizona bullpen, he increased the SO/BB ratio to 1.91 and lowered his ERA to 3.57.
Interesting, looking at the pitch data, Owings velocity didn’t increase upon moving to the pen. Actually, it went down, and that appears to be thanks to an increased reliance on the cut-fastball. According to BIS, Owings relied on a cutter 77.3 percent of the time last season, and had previously never thrown the pitch. According to PITCHf/x, however, he only threw the cutter 32.6 percent last season, and had relied on it heavily before (notably in 2009).
Naturally, Petco will help the big right hander.
If he makes the major league roster or comes up later in the season, Owings will probably take on the swing man role — coming in for long relief, getting some emergency starts, and occasionally pitching a high-leverage inning or two — and he’s adequately suited to do just that.
Owings real value, though, is in his versatility. Not just versatility on the mound, but his well-above average hitting skills for a pitcher. In fact, his career batting numbers are actually above-average for a position player. In 217 career plate appearances, he’s hit .286/.313/.507 with nine home runs. In 88 career minor league PAs, Owings hit .325/.353/.475. He isn’t refined with the bat, striking out often and rarely taking a walk, but the power is obviously there.
Most of that damage at the major league level was done way back in ’07 while in the starting rotation. Further, Owings has only received 33 PAs over the last two seasons, working primarily out of the bullpen. Still, the two-way college player at Georgia Tech and Tulane possesses hitting ability that few pitcher’s can match. The Padres won’t be forced to take him out of the game in the long man/relief role if he comes up in a semi-crucial situation. Further, on days when he’s not expected to hit, Owings could make for a viable pinch hitter.
While signing Owings exclusively as pitching depth is okay, his real value comes in his offensive game and overall versatility.