Every team needs starting pitching depth. Last year the Mets had their projected starting five of Capuano, Dickey, Niese, Pelfrey and Young and they hoped to get Santana back sometime during the season. For additional depth they had Gee and Misch. This year they have Dickey, Gee, Niese, Pelfrey and (hopefully) Santana and for depth, uh, I suppose Batista, Hefner and Schwinden.
Heading into 2011, the depth seemed better because Gee had performed well in his September callup in 2010, going 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA and Misch had 24 starts in the majors under his belt and had pitched better than his record indicated for New York.
This year, no one seems happy with the three pitchers the Mets have slated as their #6 thru #8 starters. Miguel Batista allowed more walks than strikeouts last year and turns 41 in February. Jeremy Hefner has never pitched in the majors and had a 4.98 ERA in Triple-A last year. Chris Schwinden relies on more smoke and mirrors than Gee does.
Sandy Alderson would like to add another pitcher but faces two problems. The obvious one is having the cash to spend on a quality hurler. The other is that he seemingly views Dillon Gee as a permanent member of the rotation. Here’s what Alderson said on the subject back in December.
“The problem with rotation depth is you have to hit the sweet spot. You have to find somebody who could be a swingman — because if everything goes right, we don’t have a spot in that rotation. So it’s got to be somebody who can either be a swingman out of the bullpen, or somebody who could go to Triple-A initially and maybe move up and down.”
That seems to rule out veterans like Jeff Francis, Jon Garland and Brad Penny. It probably rules out Chris Young, who may not be healthy to start the season, anyway. Aaron Laffey, Jo-Jo Reyes and Andy Sonnanstine fit the bill but have already signed with other clubs. So, who is left on the free agent market who would fit Alderson’s description of the club’s pitching need?
How about Micah Owings?
We’ve heard more about Joe Saunders, Owings’ teammate last year in Arizona. But Saunders made $5 million last year and hasn’t pitched in the minors since 2007. Owings has pitched in the minors for at least part of the year every single season of his pro career and is a minimum-wage type guy. Plus, while Saunders has not pitched one game in relief in the majors, Owings has 68 starts and 64 relief appearances, which is much more suitable to the swingman role Alderson envisions.
On the surface, Owings had a great year in 2011, as he went 8-0 with a 3.57 ERA. But his peripherals paint a different story. His FIP was 4.47 and his xFIP was 4.51 indicating he was quite lucky last season. The big two areas where Owings was fortunate was with his balls in play and his strand rate. He had a .258 BABIP and a 77.4 LOB%. Those give a glimpse of why the Diamondbacks non-tendered him in the offseason.
Owings could fill the long man spot in the bullpen and be ready to step in if Santana isn’t ready to go or if Gee continues pitching like he did after the All-Star break last year. Another upside with Owings is that he’s one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors today. In 217 PA in the majors, Owings has a .286/.313/.507 line with 9 HR. If he’s in the game as a long man, or pitching well as a starter, he gives his manager more flexibility because you do not have to pinch-hit for him when his spot in the lineup comes to the plate.
Last year, Owings made just four starts and had just 20.1 IP as a starter. Yet he had 19 PA for the season, an indication that Arizona allowed him to come to bat in games where he entered as a reliever.
Owings is not overpowering on the mound but throws a fastball, cutter and slider. He gets hitters to expand the zone and his 3.29 BB/9 last year was his best mark in the category since 2007. While his BABIP was at an unsustainable level, Owings historically outperforms in the category. While most major league pitchers have roughly a .300 mark in BABIP, Owings has a lifetime .277 mark in 473.1 IP.
When shopping for a swingman, teams simply are not going to get a healthy pitcher with a better track record than Owings. If Owings could replicate his estimators from 2011, he would be a nice asset for the Mets to have. Owings had a 4.51 xFIP last year, nearly identical to the 4.46 mark that Gee produced. If Alderson considers Gee a solid member of the rotation, than there’s no reason not to consider Owings a pitcher to add to the mix.