Sporting News contributor Dan Weigel pitched for Bucknell University and is a player and a coach for national and club youth teams in the United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter: @danweigel38 .The latest Red Sox’ pitching prospect to make it to the major leagues, Henry Owens has been unspectacular but extremely interesting in his first two starts. Heralded as a pitchability lefty with a plus changeup and room to grow, Owens is a fascinating pitcher who has taken an unusual approach in his brief time in the majors. Owens’ promotion to the major leagues came after a run of strong starts for
Triple-A Pawtucket. Despite mediocre full season numbers, in his last nine starts in the minors Owens lasted at least six innings while allowing no more than two walks in each outing. That was a far cry from his numbers at the beginning of the season, when 4-6 walks per start was very common. Manager John Farrell, speaking before his debut, explained that Owens has put on quite a bit of weight recently, and as a young kid (23) who is still growing into his long and lean body, it took a while for him to learn to repeat his delivery. Farrell seems to be right, and we should discount his unsightly season 11.2 percent walk rate to instead focus on the recent results that match his lofty prospect pedigree.Breaking down Owens' mechanicsMechanically, it’s easy to see many positive qualities that helped the lefty with the low 3/4 armslot climb the prospect ranks while also observing remnants of the struggles that held him back in the early part of the season. At 6-6 and 205 pounds, Owens has a long and loose body, which translates into a long and loose delivery. On the positive side, in spite of a slow and methodical start to his windup, Owens uses his hips very well to generate late torque. He stays balanced throughout his motion and gets great extension, allowing him to release the ball very close to home plate. On the negative side, repeatability remains a concern. There have been too many instances of Owens “losing” and then “having to regain” his mechanics during the game. In other words, there were instances where something in his delivery went wrong during a pitch, prompting Owens to adjust and often counter-adjust. These mechanical adjustments significantly affect pitch command and consequently, overall effectiveness. The most common in-game mechanical adjustments for Owens deal with the rotation and timing of his upper body. His misses generally occur in two places — up and to the arm side and down and to the glove side. The first type, a miss up to the arm side, is typically a result of a slower upper half lagging behind a faster lower half. Owens will not be able to get into full trunk (upper torso) rotation in time, so the arm lags behind, and consequently the ball is released too early. The other common miss, a down and to the glove side, is a result of the upper body going too quickly and undergoing trunk rotation too soon, so the arm will be too far ahead in the mechanical sequence.This can also be caused by over-rotation of the torso, in which case the trunk will rotate beyond a squared up position, dragging the arm down and away with it. The over-rotation for Owens can also be caused by an aggressive pull back with the lead arm. This forces additional, and arguably excessive acceleration and rotation of the shoulders. Although it may lead to a slight increase in velocity, I see a stabilized front arm as a bigger positive for a pitcher, as it helps keep the shoulders in proper line moving towards the plate instead of rotating laterally. I believe Owens will greatly improve his mechanical consistency as he continues to physically develop and become comfortable with his long limbs. The foundation of a balanced, repeatable delivery is in place, and the remaining challenge is for Owens to acquire the repetition and muscle memory necessary to repeat the motion consistently throughout the game. Related News The greatest Red Sox players of all time Owens' best pitchOwens’s best pitch is his changeup, which averages 78 mph and is extremely deceptive. He throws the pitch with tremendous intent and sells it with great armspeed, while allowing the deep grip to account for the 12 mph velocity gap. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel rates the pitch as a present 55 and a future 60 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), figures that may rise with improved mechanical consistency and ability to locate the pitch in all counts. His third pitch is a breaking ball, which varies in classification between a slider and a curveball.I think this is a PITCHf/x classification issue and that they are not actually different pitches, but in any case, the breaking balls from Owens are slightly below league average. McDaniel rates it as a present 45, losing effectiveness due to his inability to generate consistent movement and location with the offering. The pitch is not consistently sharp and is left up in the zone too often, but can be effective against left-handed hitters (he used the pitch to strike out Jacoby Ellsbury, the first major league batter he faced) and as a backdoor pitch to right-handed hitters.The most interesting aspect of Owens’ profile deals with his fastball. The pitch sits at a pedestrian 90.1 mph but plays up as a result of his good extension. The extension means he releases the pitch closer to home plate, which cuts down on a hitter’s reaction time and increases perceived velocity (perceived velocity is an adjusted velocity measure based on hitter reaction time). Couple that with natural deception and his difficult arm slot and it’s easy to see why Owens’s fastball plays up and is more effective than most 90 mph fastballs.The final piece of the fastball puzzle is location. Through two starts, Owens’s fastball location is shown on the chart below. Baseball Savant https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/22/f5/henry-owenss-fastball-location-courtesy-of-baseball-savant_1v4hqf24z6t55zre1nq9d65i2.png?t=772002175&w=500&quality=80 This usage is extremely unusual. There is an astonishingly high rate of elevated fastballs and very few low fastballs. For a pitcher who does not thrive on elite velocity, this requires examination. Is this something Owens is doing intentionally or is he simply missing high? There are many potential reasons for usage pattern and I’ve identified three of the most likely below.Factor One: Command Issues. As discussed above, Owens is still working to achieve mechanical consistency and will leave the ball up and to the arm side at times. It follows that some of the up and arm side pitches are mistakes resulting from mechanical sequencing issues and not thrown to that spot intentionally. However, he is not just missing up on occasion. A majority of the fastballs are thrown high, leading me to believe that at least some of the high heaters are deliberate.Factor Two: Effective Velocity. Similar to perceived velocity, effective velocity deals with a velocity adjustment based on hitter reaction time. Effective velocity differs itself from perceived velocity as the former is calculated based on location in and around the strike zone. The principle behind effective velocity is that a batter must swing sooner to get the bathead out in front to hit high and inside pitches, whereas a batter may wait a bit longer on pitches low and outside. Starting the swing earlier on a high and inside pitch means the batter has less time to react, while starting the swing later on a low and outside pitch means the batter has more time to react. This additional or reduced reaction time is converted into a velocity adjustment for pitches to certain spots. High and inside pitches receive an effective velocity boost while pitches low and away receive an effective velocity reduction. A pitch down the middle receives no effective velocity adjustment, nor do pitches low and in and pitches up and away.It is possible Owens is using the principle of effective velocity to justify the use of the high fastball. His 90 mph heater already plays up as a result of perceived velocity, and intentional or not, the pitches high and inside can play up and add another few mph. With a gain of 1-2 mph on perceived velocity and 3-5 mph on effective velocity, it is very possible that Owens’s 90 mph heater could feel like 97 if thrown to the right spot with his plus extension.Factor Three: Rising fastball. If you have not heard of the Statcast-tracked statistic spin rate, now is a great time to get acclimated with the new, revolutionary stat. Spin rate is simply the number of rotations per minute the baseball makes on its flight to the plate. For a fastball, league average spin rate is around 2,100 rotations per minute. Anything significantly higher than that will rise and anything significantly lower than that will sink. It is good for a pitcher to be on an extreme, as fastballs with average spin rates will have no vertical movement and seem “flat” to a hitter.In his two starts this season, Owens has averaged 2,345 rotations per minute on his fastball, meaning that the pitch will rise on its way to the plate. To generate swings and misses and avoid hard contact, it makes more sense to throw a rising fastball at the top of the strike zone as opposed to at the bottom of the zone. When a fastball is thrown low, a pitcher is often trying to get a batter to swing over the pitch and get a weak ground ball. If a low fastball rises, the vertical movement will work against the pitcher’s goal of getting the batter to top the ball. Contrarily, if a rising fastball is thrown high in the zone, the vertical movement aligns with the goal of getting the batter to swing under the pitch. It is possible that Owens throws up in the zone consistently to take advantage of his high spin rate and rising fastball.Owens' future in BostonOwens is a unique and interesting pitcher who is well worth monitoring the rest of the season. As he continues to grow acclimated to the major leagues, I will be especially excited to monitor his mechanical consistency and pitch selection. If he can make progress on repeating his delivery, consequently improving his command and giving him the confidence to throw any of his pitches even when behind in the count, Owens should enjoy significant success for the duration of his rookie campaign. I am also very interested to track his fastball location to see if he continues to throw high fastballs with such frequency and if opposing hitters make an adjustment. Owens is a quality pitcher at present but far from a finished product.In a lost season, it makes sense for the Red Sox to allow him to develop at the major league level and find out if he will be ready to join the rotation on the contending team they hope to field next season.