One of the perks of being a “Kevin” here at Royals Review is the fact that I can make absurdly optimistic takes and back it up with some small sample size stats and you will read half of it and tousle my hair and tell me how cute of a Kevin I am.
And honestly that process is the best that Chris Owings currently deserves. His current slash line is .165/.233/.304 and he has the 5th highest K% (33.7%) in the league. He’s been “good” for 40 wRC+ and has directly taken major league at-bats away from O’Hearn, Dozier, Brian Goodwin, and Brett Phillips and indirectly from Nicky Lopez, Humberto Arteaga, and Erick Mejia. Any way you look at it you can come to the conclusion that Owings is negatively affecting this team. So he deserves to have a rookie defense attorney behind him.
Why is he here in the first place?
The Royals signed him to be a super utility guy that can provide positional flexibility. The flexibility was needed for times like Sunday, when someone leads off a late inning with a single and Gore pinch runs for said person. Gore is then subbed out for in the following inning by moving guys around. Whit and Owings make this strategy feasible. That situation hasn’t exactly lined up and worked out yet, but this is what it would look like.
The Royals signed him for 1 year/$3M coming off a -0.8 fWAR season in ARI, passing on guys like Josh Harrison (-0.7 fWAR, 3 wRC+), Jose Iglesias (0.0 fWAR, 76 wRC+), Derek Dietrich (0.5 fWAR, 145 wRC+), and (ahem) Alcides Escobar (currently on the White Sox AAA team). All could have served the same role as Owings and signed for less than Owings, but all are also older than Owings.
I mention age there for a couple reasons:
1. Owings being younger than those others is one of his only legs up on them.
2. Owings is, theoretically, in his prime.
I think this is the main reason why the Royals went after Owings instead of the others. He is 27 now and has put up 85+ wRC+ seasons in the past. He was considered to be one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks’ farm system when he made his debut in 2013, so there is prospect pedigree. He has decent speed and provides that positional flexibility that we’ve already covered. If his bat became something serviceable at all, he’d be able to live up to that $3M salary pretty easily this year and could turn into something trade-able by the July deadline orrrrrr...
he could become a candidate to extend. He obviously hasn’t done that much yet, but would it really be THAT surprising that the front office fantasizes about that scenario?
So what has he done?
I’ll admit, his bat has not been
great good average below average, but there is some good news that could signal some potential for improvement. He has a 16.0% soft contact rate. That is low enough for Top 100 in the league. His hard contact rate is 40.0%, which ties him with guys like Manny Machado and Kyle Schwarber for 89th in the league. According to Baseball Savant, Owings is slightly above average in Exit Velo with an average of 89 mph. To me, those numbers should translate to, at least, average hitting numbers and not a .229 BABIP.
The K% is a big issue obviously, but I think there’s a bigger issue that might could be solvable. He currently has a ground ball % of 57.1%, which is the eighth-highest in the league. We collectively howled at Eric Hosmer’s ability to hit ground balls while he was here and begged someone to introduce him to launch angles. With this hit profile, Owings should be getting the same treatment. He’s never had a great average launch angle though so this would be a project.
Going off this Washington Post article, if Owings were able to increase his launch angle from his current 10.6 degrees to the league average of 11.5, while maintaining his exit velocity, he’s right in the sweet spot. I’m sure if this was going to happen, though, I would think that we’d already be talking about possibly extending Owings instead of defending his roster spot.
Why should we give him the benefit of the doubt?
Let’s do a fun and totally not loaded exercise. Since I don’t think he’ll be making the improvements previously discussed, I’d think that the goal is now building his trade value. With that in mind, imagine that it’s July 28 and your team is currently leading the division by 9 games with a 61-38 record. You have multiple small holes to plug but a limited farm system and budget to work with. You can have your choice of two utility players on the block.
Player A: A 34-year old vet with a career .356 OBP. He’s already spent one month on the Injured List though and doesn’t necessarily fit your current strategy of putting the ball in play while running wild on base paths and playing good defense.
Player B: A 27-year old with a career .290 OBP that provides decent defense and baserunning along with controllable years left and a relatively clean bill of health.
Yes I am comparing Chris Owings to Ben Zobrist. No I don’t think they’re on the same level but I think the case can be made that Chris Owings can still have decent trade value.
Ladies and gentleman of the jury. My goal here is not to convince you that Chris Owings deserves to get everyday at bats. My goal was to get you to open your minds to the possibility of Owings being a piece of the present AND future for the Royals. If an adjustment is made, he could become Diet Whit and thus an extension candidate (develops headache from squinting too much). If he doesn’t adjust, maybe he still puts up enough numbers to become trade-able and bring back a lottery ticket prospect or international signing money. Or maybe, he is what he is and plays out the rest of this contract as a super utility defensive replacement until the rosters expand.
My main point is that this team isn’t going anywhere important in 2019. Similarly, Chris Owings as a reclamation project isn’t going anywhere and he’s going to get every shot to become a dude in 2019 as one can get. We know that all front offices are trying to create as many successful “diamonds in the rough” to point to as successes. So maybe giving him a shot at becoming something important isn’t the worst thing in the world...right?