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Henry Owens elicited 21 swings and misses on Tuesday.

Let’s try that again.

Henry Owens elicited 21 swings and misses on Tuesday.

Owens absorbed a loss on Tuesday. He considered that the defining aspect of his 7 1/3 inning performance, despite the enormous total of whiffs that he produced. The Rays spent much of the game in a state of total confusion about whether it was swinging at a fastball or changeup.

“I failed this outing. I didn’t do what I was supposed to and I didn’t execute when I needed to later in the game,” said Owens. “The optimistic viewpoint is, I had a lot of swings and misses, I had them off-balance, I made a pitch when I needed to early in the game, and even in the sixth inning [in a bases-loaded, one-out situation] I got a double-play ball. It’s good to get swing-and-misses but I’d rather win games.”

Still, what Owens showed on Tuesday, what he’s shown for much of his first exposure to the big leagues, offers a hint that he might indeed be part of a number of wins to come. That is chiefly thanks to the 21 swings and misses that he produced with just 90 pitches over his strikingly efficient outing.

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First, some context for the raw whiffs: Owens’s 21 swings-and-misses were the most produced by any Red Sox pitcher this year, exceeding the 19 Clay Buchholz had.

That would be an impressive accomplishment in its own right, but Tuesday isn’t an isolated incident.

Owens had another start — against the Mariners — where he got 18 swings and misses, the third most by any Sox pitcher this year. He has achieved double-digit swing-and-miss totals in six of his last seven starts. Indeed, at an early point in his career, Owens is leaving hitters with an empty feeling in a fashion that ranks with some of the best pitchers in the game.

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Owens has allowed a contact percentage — meaning the number of swings that resulted in contact — of 73.2. So 26.8 percent of all swings has resulted in a miss.

Get the swing of it
The lowest contact rates, and, hence, the highest swing-and-miss rates, of AL starters who have thrown at least 50 innings this year.
Chris Sale
67.3 percent
Chris Archer
70 percent
Cole Hamels
71.5 percent
Carlos Carrasco
71.8 percent
Corey Kluber
73.1 percent
Henry Owens
73.2 percent
Source: baseball-reference.com

Obviously, that’s great company. Just as obviously, that’s not a guarantee of Owens’s success, particularly if he remains prone to permitting home runs with the sort of regularity that he has to date in his major league career (7 in 51 innings) and vulnerable to bigger innings. That said, there’s a precedent in Owens’s early professional life that suggests that he’s laying a fairly intriguing foundation.

In Owens’s first pro season of 2012 with Single A Greenville, he would get strikeouts in bunches only to encounter a single-inning hiccup that marred his ERA. But the fact that he could mix his fastball and changeup to baffle opponents suggested the foundation of a very good prospect. That notion took shape as Owens dominated in High A (2.92 ERA, .180 opponents’ average), Double A (2.44 ERA, .195 opponents’ average), and Triple A (.202 average, 3.03 ERA), mostly leaning on the fastball-changeup combination while developing his curveball and slider significantly.

Still, Owens is a different animal than the other pitchers who have elicited swings and misses with the volume that he has. Whereas most of them work regularly in the low- to mid-90s with their fastballs, Owens’s velocity has hovered mostly around 89-90 mph. That velocity gives him less margin for error than those other pitchers, which in turn may have contributed to Owens’s vulnerability and his 4.41 ERA.

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Still, even with his velocity and some inconsistent results, there’s possibility.

“There’s a little bit of deception, whether it’s that he hides the ball, throws across his body. He has a swing-and-miss changeup. He can locate and elevate his fastball. There’s a lot of good things that Henry can do when called upon,” said Sox manager Torey Lovullo. “When it’s rolling and clicking pretty good, you can see he has good easy innings.”

In short, in contrast to the host of Red Sox pitching prospects whose big league trials in 2014 represented a disappointment, Owens has done nothing to diminish his prospect standing. If anything, even as he continues to search for big league success, he’s elevated it.

More by Alex Speier


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.