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2016 SnakePit Unsung Hero: Chris Owings

As voted on by actual members of the SnakePit this time!

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San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Funny how it changes things, when the ballot not open to being decided by a passing Facebook mob. There were a total of 57 responses submitted, although I did have to engage in some light filtering: those who voted included Chris Herrmann’s dog, Definitely not Aricat’s friend and Russian hacker. Funny how these all voted for Chris Herrmann. :) Cleaning those out, and limiting the ballots to registered SnakePitters, brought us the following result - the number in parentheses is the percentage the player received of the raw, unfiltered vote.

  • Chris Owings - 42% (35%)
  • Chris Herrman - 21% (32%)
  • Brandon Drury - 21% (21%)
  • Randall Delgado - 16% (12%)

So, Chris Owings would have won with or without the restriction, though his margin would have been considerably smaller without. Something something popular vote.

Chris Owings

As we mentioned in the original poll thread, Owings moved from the middle infield to become the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day starter at a position he had never played until a couple of days previously. He held the position down until the team signed a “real” center-fielder in Michael Bourn, making 47 starts there before Bourn’s arrival allowed Owings to return to more customary pastures. He didn’t let the unfamiliar position distract from his hitting. During his very first start ever at CF, in the final pre-season game, Owings hit a three-run homer, and his OPS playing center-field was virtually indistinguishable from his overall figure (.729 vs. .731).

Right from the get-go, Owings embraced the challenge, as shown in the interview above, with Fox Sports’s Kate Longworth. And he wasn’t a butcher at the position either. He played error-free baseball in over four hundred center-field innings, and while the defensive metrics point in different directions [BIS Defensive Runs Saved = +2; Total Zone Fielding Runs = -4], he made some impressive plays there. His general athleticism helped make up for Owings’s lack of experience at the position, as shown in the catch below, where he demonstrates good range to retire Starling Marte of the Pirates:

His efforts did not go entirely unrecognized, manager Chip Hale saying in May "You don't see something like this very often. It does show the importance, though, of having good athletes on the team. [Owings] can fly, and he's one of our best basestealers. He's one of those guys who could probably play anywhere.” Though Owings was quick to credit the coaching staff, in particular Dave Mckay, and also A.J. Pollock in helping him make the transition. "I'm trying to be a sponge and absorb as much information as I can. You try to keep all that in mind while you're out there... You want to be in there every day, so whatever opportunity there is to get out there and help this team, I'm going to do it."

Also perhaps sliding under the wire of public attention was the sharp improvement in CO’s production at the plate this year. In 2015, he had a triple-slash of .227/.264/.322 for an OPS of just .587, which ranked him dead last among the 142 qualifying hitters in the major-leagues. Last year, he fell a little short of qualifying, due to missing 37 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but his batting average and on-base percentage were up by fifty points or more, and his slugging percentage was close to 100 points better. Owings’s overall line in 2016 was a much-improved .277/.315/.416, for a .731 OPS that was better than league average for shortstops. As Jeff Wiser noted, Chris cut back his K’s and infield flies, while hitting more ground-balls, changes that played to his strengths.

It may be the case that 2015 was the aberration, a season largely lost as Owings worked his way back to full health after requiring surgery on his shoulder at the end of the previous campaign. He said in September, “This year I’m letting the ball travel just a little bit more that I know I can hit because my swing feels a lot better. Maybe last year I’m chasing a slider and I’m pulling off of it and not even making contact. Where this year you let it travel a little bit and you’re staying on it because you know where your swing is at.” Perhaps that improvement helped allow the team the confidence to trade Jean Segura this winter? Regardless, Owings appears to have restored a future with the team which was on thin ice after 2015, and looks set to be an everyday starter this year. Just hopefully, not in center-field!

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