Diamondbacks Spring Spotlight: Micah Owings

Micah Owings enters the 2008 season with a phenomenal minor league track record and an encouraging rookie year in the majors, but also having allowed 17 earned runs and 13 walks in 15.2 spring innings. What can we expect from perhaps the most important pitcher on the Diamondbacks?

A sound argument can be made that the most important pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation in 2008 is ace Brandon Webb, who made a run at his second Cy Young Award last season, and posted three consecutive shutouts at one point, an unheard of feat in this era of major league baseball. One could certainly understand if people wanted to believe that the most important pitcher on the team was newly acquired Danny Haren, who was one of the best pitchers in the hitter-friendly American League last season, and led the league in ERA for much of the season before ultimately finishing third with a 3.07. There may even be a few people out there who place a high level of importance on the back of 44-year-old Randy Johnson, the best singular pitcher in D-Backs history and one of the all time greats. If he can pitch even 100 innings in 2008, it might be enough to give Arizona the edge in a tough, pitching-rich division.

But as important as Webb, Haren, and even Johnson may be to the fate of the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks, the season may very well turn on the performance of Micah Owings, the 25 year old second year starter whose 152.2 inning first major league season in 2007 was marked by highs – including five innings of shutout ball in his major league debut and nine inning shutout in his second to last start of the year – as well as lows – such as a five start stretch in July in which he gave up 23 earned runs and his 20 total homeruns allowed. The crucial point with Owings is probably his strikeouts and walks. In the minors, he struck out 167 batters in 189 innings and walked only 56, which put him one strikeout away from maintaining a 3:1 ratio. In the majors, his numbers weren't quite as good – 106K, 50 BB in 152.2 innings – but that is to be expected of a guy in his first ever major league action.

05  Lancaster 1 1 2.45 16 0 22.0 17 6 6 0 4 30 0.95
06 Tennessee 6 2 2.88 12 12 75.0 67 24 24 4 17 69 1.12
  Tucson 10 0 3.70 15 15 87.2 96 40 36 4 34 61 1.48
07 Tucson 0 0 0.00 1 1 5.0 4 0 0 0 1 7 1.00
  Arizona 8 8 4.30 29 27 152.2 146 81 73 20 50 106 1.28
Minors 17 3 3.14 44 28 189.2 184 70 66 8 56 167 1.27

Statistics courtesy of The Baseball Cube

One of the nice things about Owings is that he improved dramatically as the season progressed. His first half ERA and batting average against were 4.84 and .282, compared with 3.72 and .219 in the second half. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also vastly improved in the second half (53/31 vs. 53/19), indicating that he started coming into his own.

The reason Owings becomes so crucial for the Diamondbacks is that he has the potential to be a quality number two starter on a team that already has its two established aces – Brandon Webb and Dan Haren – in place. If Owings comes out, struggles with his consistency, strikes out roughly twice the number of batters he walks, and gives up too many long balls, then he could be a decent number three pitcher who would give Arizona a chance to win every game he pitches. But if Owings can parlay his strong second half into a strong start to the 2008 season; if he can improve upon his durability by pitching 200 innings this season – adding roughly 50 innings to last year's totals; if he can be the type of pitcher that pushes his K/BB ratio out of the 2:1 range and into the 3:1 range, then the Arizona Diamondbacks could potentially have the best top three starter combination in the National League, which would be lethal.

The Arizona Diamondbacks begin this season with high hopes of building upon the success of the team that won a highly contentious AL West in 2007. If Micah Owings lives up to and fulfills his potential, giving Arizona a lethal 1-2-3 combination at the top of their rotation, it will be a long season for the rest of the division in 2008.

Prediction: 16-9, 198.2 innings, 3.35 ERA, 67 BB, 178 K

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