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How the Chris Owings outfield experiment could work out for the Diamondbacks

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With the Diamondbacks short on outfield depth, one of their better solutions could be to convert Owings to a full time outfielder role.

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks are a bit short on outfield depth currently and the front office is currently working on that. I still think adding a bat like J.D. Martinez is a long-shot proposition for the Diamondbacks, so the team will likely be looking elsewhere. The team could try adding Carlos Gonzalez or Jarrod Dyson in free agency, but in the event nothing materializes the team should have a contingency plan.

The early indication is that contingency plan is in the form of Chris Owings. Owings has prior experience in the outfield, with 70 combined starts and about 605 innings of experience. Last season, he played roughly 202 innings in the outfield before injuries forced him back at shortstop in June. Owings graded out solidly in terms of DRS, saving 4 runs above average in that limited sample. UZR doesn’t like him in CF with a UZR/150 of -7.1 while giving him positive grades at the corners. It’s a very limited sample size and Owings has never played outfield for a full season, so take those grades with a mountain of salt as well.

Owings has above average foot speed, averaging 27.9 ft/s in the three years that Statcast has been measuring that. That’s above average for both corners, but average in CF. The Diamondbacks don’t need Owings to play CF if A.J. Pollock is healthy, but Pollock has completed only 1 season injury-free in the last 4 seasons. That would make Owings the backup to Pollock when that inevitable injury happens. With the Diamondbacks having more than enough bodies to deal with the middle infield on the 40-man roster, now is a good time to make the transition to a full time outfielder role.

The bigger question is value with the bat. I don’t expect Owings to offensively break even due to limited OBP and power profiles. His offensive productivity can be reliably somewhere around 85-90 wRC+ while struggling to maintain a .300 OBP over the season. However, the times he does manage to get to first base, he is a weapon on the basepaths. Owings is an 87% career base-stealer and his baserunning as a whole is worth 4-5 runs above average per 600 PA. That puts his offensive value somewhere around 5 runs below average. Factoring in replacement runs, which is 18 runs from replacement and -5 from playing a corner OF position, that would put his offensive value at 8 runs above replacement (0.8 oWAR).

For a below average offensive player, that value has to come with the glove. As I mentioned before, Owings graded out positively in the outfield in DRS although UZR did not like his range in CF. UZR did grade him as +0.6 runs above average in his 200 innings in RF in addition to +0.6 runs with his arm. As I mentioned earlier, the sample size is too small to make a more thorough projection, but if he played RF the entire season (estimating a 1000 inning sample), his defense would be 9 runs above average. Using that number, that would put Owings’ total value at about 17 runs above average or 1.7 WAR. With Owings replacing Tomas in the lineup, that would roughly be a 2 win upgrade in the outfield per 600 PA possibly.

With Owings in the outfield, your starting three are David Peralta in LF, Pollock in CF, and Owings in RF. Peralta in 2017 graded out better in LF in both DRS (3 vs. 3) and UZR/150 (5.5 vs. -0.9). Against some lefties, the team could play Tomas in LF where his bat possibly can outweigh his negatives on defense. Other options for the 4th OF spot include Christian Walker, Rey Fuentes, Socrates Brito, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. Given that Tomas and Walker are both right-handed, I can see the team carrying a 5th outfielder on the bench to start the season. Ideally, the Diamondbacks are able to improve their outfield situation with a signing or trade, but with their internal options I think putting Owings in the outfield could boost the team’s chances defensively although it does come at the cost of some offensive firepower in the lineup.