The Boston Red Sox didn’t trade Henry Owens during the Winter Meetings. They still might trade him, depending on what kind of offers they receive for the 23-year-old lefty. While there’s no such thing as too much pitching, Boston does have depth in that department, and Dave Dombrowski likes power arms. Owens isn’t necessarily velocity deficient, but he’s more finesse than flamethrower.
Once viewed as untouchable, Owens is no longer looked at as sure-thing stud. He failed to dominate in Triple-A, and his 11 big league starts were a mixed bag. The club’s former top pitching prospect split eight decisions and finished with a 4.57 ERA and a 4.28 FIP.
As expected, Owens showed off an excellent changeup, which he threw 24.7% of the time after being called up in early August. How well he commanded his fastball largely dictated whether he was rock-and-rolling or getting rocked by opposing batters. The fastball averaged 89.1 mph, a tick or two less than in past years.
Owens talked about his first two months of MLB action in the closing days of September.
Owens on pitch sequencing: “It’s definitely an evolving process for me. When I came up and pitched against the Yankees and Detroit – the teams I faced early on – I was predominantly fastball. I was trying to establish my stuff and see how it played up here. After a few outings, I started mixing it up more. Not my repertoire, per se, but the sequencing changed. Of course, it can change in any game, and depend somewhat on the lineup.”
On changeups down and in: “One thing I’ve done differently up here is throw changeups inside to lefties. A few of our scouting reports have us doing that. Some guys fly open and have a hole down and in, so we’ll throw changeups low and in. I spent four years in the minors where that was almost a no-no. Up here, we know hitters’ swing paths and we adjust to that.”
On his changeups: “I throw two different changeups. I throw one that I want to start out looking like a fastball and it slowly fades out. I also throw one that starts out like a fastball and darts down. And sometimes I’ll put a little cut on it.
“I don’t really manipulate the ball differently, it’s more location than anything. If I start it a little higher in the zone, it’s not going to have that drop off the table. If I start it as a low heater, it’s going to fade down below the zone.
“I’m not necessarily trying to hit the glove all the time. I’m not saying I’m trying to be effectively wild, it’s more that I have the ability to read a swing pretty decently. I probably throw to a hitter’s swing more than anything.”
On his recently introduced slider: “In my first six starts, I probably threw two sliders. I had a little trouble commanding the fastball, so there really weren’t too many situations where I was comfortable with, ‘Let’s try out this new pitch.’ Gradually, throwing bullpens, I got a better feel.
“I can’t remember which team it was against, but in one outing I threw it about 10 times. I got a lot of swings and misses with it, and was thinking, ‘Maybe it does play.’ My first outing in Yankee Stadium, I got Jacoby Ellsbury a couple of times. The slider is a pitch I want to continue to develop and have in my back pocket as a weapon, and not just as a show-me pitch.”
On stealing strikes: “I don’t want to call anything in my arsenal a steal-a-strike pitch. Even though I’ll steal a strike with my changeup, or steal a strike with my curveball, at the end of the day, I want them all to be two-strike weapons.
“I’ll throw my curveball at different speeds throughout an outing. Same with the changeup. Say if someone jumps a 0-0 fastball and hits it off the wall. Next time up, I might drop a first-pitch changeup in there to give him a different look. That’s stealing a strike, but some people confuse the expression with, ‘He only throws that pitch to steal a strike.’ Some hitters take first-pitch breaking balls, so you can do that, but I want to be able to throw that same pitch later in the count.”
On his velocity: “If I’m 88-92 [mph], and my best heater is 91-92, and I’m getting hit all over the yard, I might be a little concerned. But I get swings and misses with my fastball. I don’t know if it’s deception, or how I’m spinning the baseball, but it’s working for me. I obviously need to locate it, but that’s the case for any pitcher.
“My velocity is down a bit, but 180 innings probably has a little effect on that. I’ll be more in tune with my body next year. I’ll be stronger and another year older, so I think there’s an amount of velocity that will come back.”
On adding and subtracting: “I like to pick the brains of our hitters. I ask them questions all the time. I had a discussion with [hitting coach] Chili Davis about Drew Smyly during one game. He had a good curveball that day and was throwing it a lot, but he would never throw his changeup off of it. We were discussing how even if you stay soft by throwing a changeup off the curveball, the batter will still be out front if you make it look like a fastball. He’s probably going to make contact, because you slowed his bat down with the curveball, but if you locate well it’s probably going to be weak contact.
“I’ve been watching Rich Hill, Wade Miley. Even Eddie Rodriguez — we’re pretty much different pitchers, but there’s still a lot of adding and subtracting to his game. That’s what I hone in on the most – the ability of guys to disturb the timing of a hitter. There’s a lot of adding and subtracting in what I try to do.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.