Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/6/13

There’s plenty of debate out there — you’ve seen some of it — regarding the size of the Major League Baseball active roster. You might also know it as the 25-man roster, because the roster is to include 25 men. There are people who want a 26th man, and a 27th man, and there are people who want to eliminate the 25th man. As is, there’s the related argument over whether the last spot should go to a bench bat or a seventh reliever. Most teams (all teams?) opt for seven relievers, much to a stathead’s consternation. But between a bench bat and a reliever there exists a compromise: a bat/pitcher hybrid. In theory, this is a stathead’s dream. In reality, there’s been Brooks Kieschnick. There aren’t many people who can hit well and pitch well, relative to the greater population. Kieschnick is gone, leaving behind a .760 career OPS and a 4.59 career ERA. He hasn’t actually appeared in the majors since 2004, but now we could be seeing the passing of the torch: The #Nationals have agreed to terms with 1B Micah Owings on a minor league contract with an invite to Major League Spring Training. — Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) February 6, 2013 You’ll recognize the name “Micah Owings”, and you’ll note the “1B” listing. Owings, for a while, was a pitcher better known for his hitting than for his pitching. But last summer, Owings chose to re-invent himself as a position player capable of throwing the occasional pitch. Owings is our great hope now for a 25th man who doubles as a 26th man. It’s not like he’s being handed such a job — he missed most of last season due to injury, and he’s just signed a minor-league contract with an awesome team that already has a lot of parts. Owings is just going to get a look, but there’s potential here, and a manager would love the versatility he can offer. Said Owings last July of what he’s going for, having made the conversion: “I really want to see what I can do. I have an idea. I think it would maybe take some creativity for a team to accept it. But if it worked, it might create an entirely new position in baseball … a position that would give a team an extra player.” Mitch Hedberg has a joke about 2-in-1 shampoo. Owings could be a 2-in-1 baseball player, just so long as he’s good enough at both things. To this point, he’s posted an .813 major-league OPS, and a 4.86 major-league ERA. It’s evident he’s not far off from becoming what he’d like to become. It’s helpful to try to better evaluate what Owings has been. As a pitcher, he’s been worth 2.2 WAR, but since 2009 he’s been below replacement-level, working a cutter and fastball in the higher-80s. Much of that work has come out of the bullpen, so Owings doesn’t profile as a potential stand-out reliever. Now reinvented, he could be a long guy, a mop-up guy, or an emergency guy. Owings doesn’t have the numbers of someone you’d want throwing high-leverage innings. Which is why Owings was better known for his bat, having slugged .502. That, however, came over 219 plate appearances. Owings also owns a .389 BABIP to go with eight walks and 72 strikeouts. A glance at Owings’ hitting numbers suggests that he’s powerful and over-aggressive. Players like that can end up exposed. But from the article linked above, Owings has an important quote: “I have thought about this transition for a long time,” said Owings. “It has always been in the back of my head because I can hit. I want to further develop this side of my game.” Into last summer, Owings put most of his work into his pitching, because he was a pitcher. His successful hitting was more the result of raw, natural talent. It stands to reason Owings could still develop and take real strides forward, improving his approach and improving the sustainability of offensive success. Repetition and all that. As just one example — because there aren’t very many examples — Rick Ankiel, before he converted, swung at 61% of pitches, striking out 30% of the time. After Ankiel converted and returned to the majors, he swung at 52% of pitches, striking out 25% of the time. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. Owings could get himself more polished. We know he’s starting from a pretty excellent baseline. His spray chart, from Texas Leaguers: There’s some power to all fields. There’s an approach that’s aggressive, but not embarrassingly aggressive. Now imagine if Owings didn’t have to throw so many bullpens. But then, that’s the other side of things. If more work on hitting might improve Owings’ hitting, then less work on pitching might reduce the quality of Owings’ pitching. Already, he was on the fringes of being major-league caliber. What he’s going to be is a guy with pitching experience and pitching know-how, but limited ability. Owings isn’t about to become a pinch-hitting threat and a fireman. Not barring a miracle. Still, it’s impossible not to love this attempt. In Micah Owings, we have a guy who can do this: And in Micah Owings, we have a guy who can do this: A 2-in-1 player on the bench? Owings might not be good enough to make it as a hitter, and he might not be good enough to make it as a pitcher, but as a blend of the two, he’ll score points with his versatility. In theory, he could almost allow a National League team to play an American League baseball game. It would be better if Owings were better, but if Owings were better he wouldn’t be a hybrid, and this sort of hybrid is just one of the coolest things. Owings is our best shot at a strategic peculiarity, and should he make the Nationals at some point during the season, he’ll make an already incredible team all the more interesting.

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