Boston Red Sox: Henry Owens and building a pitcher

Sep 27, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens (60) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens (60) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens is a work in progress as he develops the skills to make a significant impact. Just who does he compare with?

In the summer, I wrote about the potential of Boston Red Sox prospect Henry Owens being summoned to Boston. As the season collapsed that became a reality and with it a multitude of opinions on just what the future may hold for Owens and the Red Sox.

As a youngster, I imagined myself playing shortstop for the Boston Red Sox since I could certainly be the equal of Don Buddin. Never happened. I would like to be 6’6” tall, but, alas I am not. Owens, however, is that height. Owens – a premier Red Sox prospect – also is missing something – gas! Heat! Smoke! Our Henry is tall, Lanky and is not to be confused with Randy Johnson or any other left-handed Steve Dalkowski type.

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In this day and age of baseball, the new dynamic for pitchers is speed. The fastball is “sexy” and certainly draws the attention – just think the New York Yankees or Kansas City Royals bullpens. Even for starters the benchmark often comes with a velocity criteria. Mr. Owens may be 6’6” tall, but I just might throw with more velocity.

Lack of an overpowering “No. 1” forces a thrower to become a pitcher. Owens never developed speed that attracts the ooh’s and ah’s associated with a high fastball that is flayed away at a micro second too late. Owens simply had to be a pitcher from the start. The reliance on stealth, location, changing speeds and study of hitters. And, with a compass type movement on all pitches being fine-tuned the future returns look rather positive for the Red Sox and Owens wallet.

Owens has four pitches that he routinely uses of which two are considered primary – his fastball at 59.2% use and his changeup at 23.7%. The fastball is near the basement on the pitching charts with a velocity of 89.1% and that may be fast on I-95, but in MLB not so. The change is at 77.4 MPH and that my friends is a variance of almost 12 MPH. Now Mr. Fastball looks just a tad faster. Worked rather well for Jamie Moyer.

For the sake of full disclosure, Owens other two pitches and their speed is a slider used 5.8% at 76.7 MPH and a decent curve that I have seen go sidearm, three-quarter and 12 to 6 that is displayed 10.3% of the time at a speed of 71.8 MPH. The curve, to me, is the pitch that is going to make Owens a big time pitcher, but the road will be a rocky one. Three quality pitches that (hopefully) Owens will be able to spot. Maybe the slider will develop – maybe not?

What gets Owens in a pitching pickle is what gets most hurlers in the same position and that is control. Pitching behind is counts is a recipe for allowing extra-base hits. A BB/9 of 3.43 in the small (63 innings) sample for 2015 is not impressive, but at Pawtucket each month, Owens shaved more off that figure as he refined his skill – expect that to continue at the MLB level. The majors will play a different tune and keeping runners off base via a free pass will be instrumental in career development – especially if a hit an inning becomes a career reality.

A second issue that draws attention is that Owens is not – at least at this career juncture – a ground ball pitcher. For Boston, the rate was 34.7%. And fly balls can usually be an extra base or home run nuisance with Fenway Park being especially prone to a long out being a long hit. In the minors, Owens simply did not allow that many hits with 389 in 518 innings pitched. In the brief taste of MLB, the H/9 is 8.9.

That’s the (to me) exceedingly boring statistic observations. Owens will continue to be a work in progress and one just needs to look at the beginning career stages of Red Sox left-handers to see that. Mel Parnell, Bob Ojeda, Bruce Hurst and even Jon Lester had development “issues” on their way to reasonably successful careers. The first few season was often eerily similar to Owens 2015.

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Each of the mentioned above could throw with greater velocity than Owens. Even Koji Uehara may be able to match-up on a good day. But when I see Owens I think of another pitcher who I admire for his tenacity, ability to pitch a consistent 200 innings and not break the velocity sound barrier – Hello, Mark Buehrle!

Buehrle averages 85.4 career velocity on what passes for his fastball that is used at a career 49.2% of the time. The second pitch of note is the change that is used 19.7% and at 78.8 MPH. Buehrle mixes in a curve, slider and variations on his fastball and that means cutter, two seam and anything else one wishes to concoct.

I see Buehrle I can see Owens following the same path. Expect Owens to allow more hits than innings pitched or, at least, be relatively close. Expect Owens to continue to – as he did at Pawtucket in 2015 – reduce his walk totals. Expect that GB% to improve into the low 40% range. Do not expect Owens to suddenly blossom into a power left-hander.

If Owens does become a younger version of Buehrle the Red Sox will have a very solid and dependable starter that will certainly go deep into games while keeping the Red Sox in it.

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Sources: FanGraphs/Baseball-Reference