Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
Last season went as well for Henry Owens as “Our American Cousin” did for Mary-Todd Lincoln; take out Owens’s effectively one walk per inning in his limited big-league run (or a similarly bad rate in AAA) and you might feel some fondness for the performance, much as Mrs. Lincoln may have enjoyed the show at Ford’s Theater, spousal murder notwithstanding. That, of course — as the line from a far more famous play goes — is the rub, and in neither case can we get past it.
But Owens’ Red Sox career, and his long-term future in Major League Baseball, is still alive. There is not a lot of hope, but there are examples of players with durable arms figuring their stuff out later in their careers, or at least after the age of 25, and a tall lefty is gonna get every chance to prove himself over the long term. If Owens fails himself out of Dave Dombrowski’s good graces, there’s almost no question that another organization will try to salvage him; one man’s trash, etc. At the very least, Boston’s current glut of potential starting pitchers (so many of them lefties) eases the burden on Owens to perform well right away, at least in theory. In practice, no number of starting pitchers is too many, and as long as he’s around, Owens might be called on for some garbage time innings in 2017. In the rare event they’re not garbage when he starts, they probably will be when he finishes. He’s got a long way to go.
What went right in 2016
On April 29, Owens pitched six innings of two-run ball at Fenway against the Yankees in a game that the Red Sox would eventually win 4-2. He struck out three, walked three, allowed a homer to A-Rod (his 691st) and six hits total. He left facing a 2-0 deficit, but the Sox would score two in the bottom of the seventh and take the lead for good on a David Ortiz two-run homer in the eighth. He neither pitched particularly well nor got the win, but it was unequivocally and far and away his best performance of the year out of the grand total of five appearances he made.
What went wrong in 2016
He was beaten out by Sean O’Sullivan for an emergency rotation spot, which says most of what you need to know. Owens’s other four appearances were a disaster, and his time in the minor leagues was *slightly* better. He was so bad in the show you’d think that he’d been replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis… except in that case you’d expect DD-L to be, you know, good. Owens was awful. The next time he toed the rubber following the Yankees start, he lasted three innings on the South Side against the White Sox, walking six, striking out two and allowing two runs. He’d only appear in two games after that: a spot start in Detroit in August (5 IP, 8 ER) and another one in September after the Sox had clinched the east against the Yankees in the Bronx (4.2 IP, 2 ER). At no point did it seems like there was any “there” there with Owens, who threw 120+ IP at Pawtucket over the year and still couldn’t find the plate (5.3 BB/9). But hey, he had a 3.53 ERA! Which leads us to…
What to expect in 2017:
Can Owens find the mound at Fenway this year? Barring a miracle turnaround or a disastrous sequence for the Boston rotation, the answer is probably NONONONONO PLEASE NO. At the same time, I don’t see how the Sox could find much value in moving on from him now… which doesn’t mean they won’t, but Owens’s value is either at a historical low or never existed to begin with. That sounds harsh, but the former is still more likely than the latter. There’s not much incentive to give up on Owens now — in fact, there’s a disincentive. The only thing left is upside, but there’s no telling if Owens really has a second act, or we’re already at the end.
Photo by Kamil Krazynski/USA Today Sports Images