Henry Owens Is Not Major League Ready

The hype Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens received when making his major league debut last season at Yankee Stadium was not fair to him and very unwarranted. Still young at 23 years old, Owens’ ceiling is that of a number four starter, more likely a number five. Many may be curious as to why this is and how he’s been getting hit so hard thus far in his major league career. Owens is not good enough to start at this level, at least not yet.

Henry Owens: Another Left Handed Pitching Specialist?

Left handed pitchers are seen as a more valuable commodity in baseball. The reason forHenry Owens this is because being left handed is more of a rarity than being right handed. Most major league players are righty and having a left handed pitcher to throw out there is a nice change of pace. A pitch coming from a lefty is seen differently by a hitter than one coming from a righty. This is especially true when a left handed pitcher faces a left handed batter. With all of this in mind, some may think Owens has an advantage over other major league hopeful starting pitchers. He does have an edge on right handed pitchers with big league hopes because of this and is likely to be given a more extended look at this level. However, up to this point in his career, Owens has been nothing but a let down.

Last year, Owens had a 4.57 ERA in 63 innings, his first taste of the big leagues. That is a small sample size to judge a starting pitcher off of. Adding this season’s totals to that, he still only has 72.1 innings under his belt. Typically I am not one to judge a pitcher with such a small sample size but Owens has shown me enough to point out why he cannot succeed right now and what he must do to make it work at this level.

Owens relies primarily on his plus change-up in order to set up his fastball. His fastball is easily hit, throwing 88-92 mph and leaving the pitch in spots where major league hitters will destroy it. Owens change-up has been said to be his strong pitch and at times it shows. The only problem with his change-up is that he cannot locate it. Because of this, hitting his fastball is that much easier.

I’ve always compared him to a cheap man’s Francisco Liriano if he reaches his potential. Both pitchers struggle with command and work with similar pitchers. The main two differences between the two is that Liriano throws harder and incorporates a slider as a third pitch rather than the curve ball that Owens has added. Also, left handed batters fear Liriano, something that they don’t with Owens. Left handed hitters hit .293 against Owens last season. This season has been no different as they are hitting .300 off of him. The lefty on lefty match up typically favors left handed pitchers but Owens hasn’t figured that out.

Henry Owens: What does Owens have to do to improve?

Owens has been painful to watch as a major league pitcher. While I do not see him being anything more than a fourth starter, he could get better if he works on and improves a couple things quickly. He must figure out a third pitch to incorporate. He has added a curve ball but is very hesitant to throw it. A pitcher cannot survive throwing just two pitches, unless one is a knuckleball. He also must command his pitches much better than he does right now. If one cannot locate, they will not last long at this level. Hopefully Owens figures it out. I am definitely rooting for him but don’t hold your breath waiting for this guy to live up to the hype he was wrongly given, it will never happen.

What’s Up With Clay Buchholz?

Clay BuchholzThe old Clay Buchholz has, to the Red Sox’ delight, decided to show up in four of his last five starts. Here are the stats, if you’re curious.

August 31st vs. Tampa Bay Rays (9 IP): 6/0 K/BB (strikeout to walk ratio), 0 ER (earned runs), 3 hits.

August 25th vs. Toronto Blue Jays (8 and 1/3 IP): 4/2 K/BB, 3 ER, 4 hits.

August 20th vs. Los Angeles Angels (6 IP): 5/2 K/BB, 6 ER, 7 hits.

August 15th vs. Houston Astros (7 IP): 9/2 K/BB, 2 ER, 7 hits.

August 9th vs. Los Angeles Angels (8 IP) 8/2 K/BB, 3 ER, 6 hits.

His ERA has dropped from 6.20 before his first start against the Angels to a much more appealing, yet still abysmal 5.40 ERA. For a lot of pitchers a 5.40 ERA wouldn’t necessarily give a team a glimmer of hope, but for Buchholz, who’s been utterly disappointing this year, it’s a positive and an improvement. So, what has the right-hander done differently?

Well, for starters, he’s gone to his breaking stuff more frequently over the past month. According to Brooks Baseball, he’s thrown his big curveball 20.28 percent of the time in August, which is the most he’s thrown it (percentage-wise) since May of 2012. Considering the curveball has been very effective since the 2010 season, it’s not a bad thing. What’s odd is despite opposing hitters only compiling a .611 OPS off the pitch this season, Clay decided not to use it nearly as much from April through June compared to last season when he sported a nifty 1.74 ERA.

Maybe he didn’t want to damage his arm throwing too many curves, but Buchholz needs to mix it in, especially with his four-seamer not working as well as it has in the past. Last year, hitters were only slugging .317 off the 30-year-old’s fastballl, however, they’ve slugged .470 off it this season, which is not bad but nothing close to what he did in ’13.

His changeup has consistently been a plus-pitch and so has his curveball, yet his frequency on the latter pitch diminished while the former didn’t — not substantially, at least. If Buchholz continues to keep hitters off-balance with variety (using all his pitches) then he’ll be a more consistent pitcher because of it.

That said, luck has been a part of his success, too, and that’s indicated by his .273 BABIP in August. Oddly, his BABIP decreased (on a month-by-month basis) while his ground ball rate decreased (from last month) and his fly ball rate increased. So, naturally, we can evidently see good fortune has had a huge bearing on Buchholz’s prosperity of late.

Luck, increased curveball usage, and better control (i.e. less walks) have had a sizable impact on Buchholz’s newly-found success. There’s no telling if it’ll continue, but given his track record in years past, maybe he can really be valuable as a starter 2015 and beyond.