As has been well recorded, Chris Owings started in center on Opening Day last year for the D-backs - a position he had literally never played until a couple of days earlier. He was the regular starter there, until the team picked up Michael Bourn in early June, and then returned to his more regular territory on the middle-infield. With A.J. Pollock expected to be healthy for Opening Day this season, that was generally expected to be the end of the “Owings in the outfield” experiment.
But, wait! Mike Hazen told Nick Piecoro today, the team is still thinking about giving Owings starts there. However, this is less likely to be in center than in the corner outfield spots, and in particular, Piecoro notes the possibility of Owings offering a platoon option for David Peralta in left field. Said Hazen, “More than anything else, what we’ve talked about internally is enhancing our ability to put our best lineup on the field every day. That could be because of a matchup, that could be because of injury, that could be any number of things.” Starting Owings in left against southpaws, would keep CO’s bat in the lineup and allow defensive wiz Nick Ahmed to start at SS.
So in effect, on offense, this would be replacing Peralta’s bat with Ahmed’s against left-handers. Do the numbers back this up? Here are the career splits for those two vs. LHP:
David Peralta: .222/.284/.340 = .624 OPS
Nick Ahmed: .258/.305/.378 = .682 OPS
Small sample-size warning applies, as we’re only talking between 200-250 PAs for each man, and generally you’d want more than that. But perhaps surprisingly, it looks like this would be a positive boost, based on career numbers. On the other hand, Peralta seemed to have begun to work out lefties in 2015, with a .686 OPS which would make this basically a wash - the figure actually increased to .717 last year, but due to injury that was in only 44 PA, so was effectively meaningless.
On defense, the calculation is a little more difficult, because it’s the sum of a couple of changes. In left, we have the difference between Owings and Peralta in the field; at short, the difference between Ahmed and Owings. The problem is, we have precisely 0 innings for Owings in left-field to go on, just his time in center. There, Hazen seems rather more impressed by Chris than the defensive metrics, saying “He was one of our best outfielders with no preparation last year... I would surprised if he went just about anywhere on the field and didn’t look pretty natural.” UZR disagreed, rated Owings at -1.7 mostly due to his range; Total Zone FRAA was at -2, though DRS had CO at +2.
If Owings can come anywhere close to Peralta, then that would likely be enough, as the other side of the equation - Ahmed vs. Owings at SS - is much easier to examine. Owings is actually not seen by the metrics as a very good shortstop either: his UZR per 150 games is -4.4, and his career tallies in FRAA and DRS there are -6 and -4. In contrast, Ahmed has a UZR/150 of +14.3, with career FRAA and DRS (in about 30% more innings) of +25 and +35. So, if we can get Ahmed in the field, when this is not a significant hit on the team’s offense i.e. against left-handers, with Owings being allowed to platoon for Peralta, then it’s an idea which might well make sense.