Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rooting for Micah Owings

During the regular season, one of the regular features here at the FanDome is what the Fan calls box score favorites. Box score favorites are players that the Fan finds interesting and can't wait to check out the day's box scores to see how those players did. Last year, Josh Hamilton was one of those favorites. Micah Owings has been a two year favorite and it was a sad day last year when the Diamondbacks gave up on him.

The Fan has to make an admission here. For years, the Fan has exclaimed the stupidity of having a DH rule in one league and not the other. It just doesn't seem to make sense and it messes with and complicates things like the World Series, inter league baseball and the All Star game. Since it is infinitely more fun to watch David Ortiz hit than it is to watch your average National League pitcher hit, the Fan has crusaded to have the DH in both leagues. How many sacrifice bunts can a Fan watch in a season?

There is one problem with the Fan's position and Micah Owings is its focal point. There are a handful of pitchers out there that are worth the price of admission to watch them hit. And so, despite the hypocritical stance the Fan takes on the DH, it certainly sucks that Sabathia is now in the American League and won't bat. Micah Owings is a pitcher worth watching at the plate.

Owings owns a .900+ lifetime OPS as a pitcher. Heck, if he could play shortstop, the Red Sox would love that kind of OPS. In 2007, Owings had twenty hits as a pitcher and eleven of them went for extra bases including four home runs. After the Diamondbacks gave up on him last year and traded him to the Reds, his only appearances for the Reds...was as a batter. And he had two hits in four at bats. He is a better pinch hitter than a "professional pinch hitter" like Daryle Ward.

The Fan is slowly coming around to sabermetrics. It's hard for a dinosaur to lift his head out of the tar pits. So forgive the Fan if he is a bit confused at times about his new found stats. But if the Fan is reading things correctly, Owings wasn't much worse of a pitcher last year when he had an ERA of 5.93 than the year before when his ERA was 4.30. Let's see if we can untangle the numbers.

First, the traditional statistics: Owings walked slightly more batters last year than he did the year before (3.4 per nine innings compared to 3.0). He also had a higher WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched). In 2008 his WHIP was 1.39 and the year before 1.28. For some reason, his rate of hitting batters with the pitch was up from 1.00 to 1.03 per nine innings, which is really high. His home runs allowed per nine innings were slightly up, but the slugging percentage of batters he faced was down from the year before. He always struck out more per nine innings than the year before.

Okay, now the sabermetrics. (God help the Fan here). There is a statistic called a FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) that was invented by some dudes at TangoTiger. The statistic gives an ERA value that is not dependent on how the fielders behind him fared. The 2007 Diamondbacks were a much better fielding team than last year's version apparently. Owings' FIP was the exact same as the year before: 4.80. This statistic seems to be verified by another sabermetric called a DER (Defense Efficiency Ratio) which measures "percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. " In 2007, Owings' DER was .727. Last year it was .712. That seems to back up the FIP and show that his fielders didn't do him any favors last year. This statistic is tempered a bit by another metric called LD% or Line Drive Percentage. Owings gave up more line drives per batted ball last year than the year before.

Okay, all of that hoop jumping seems to show that Owings is around a 4.80 pitcher. Not very good, but not bad by today's standards. Add to that fact that as a pitcher, he adds value as a batter (he had 4 Win Shares as a batter in 2007. Hardly ANY pitchers had positive Win Shares in that category), and he can't be much worse than any other fourth or fifth starter the Reds throw out there. A 4.80 ERA is better than ANY starter the Rangers or Orioles throw out there.

Let's hope Owings gets that opportunity. At least so the Fan can have fun looking for his box score.


Josh Borenstein said...

Meh, he's not that good a pitcher. He'll never be better than a 5th starter. I think he should take a page out of Rick Ankiel's book and try to become an everyday player.

William said...

hehehe. You can say, "meh," and it's authentic. I'm just a sicilian. Ankiel has a unique story because of his well known travails. If Owings turned into an every day player, then it would be an interesting story as well, but not as interesting as a pitcher who hits really well.