Here's a Thought: Examining Josh Outman

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Here's a Thought: Examining Josh Outman
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

In my last article, which looked at Dallas Braden, I introduced my idea of giving a single player on the A's a full-scale statistical and scouting rundown, to break down where they are at this point in their career and what to expect from them going forward.

I chose Braden to examine first because he's going to miss the rest of the season, so there won't be any 2009 data added to his pitching line. In the same vein, I'm going to look at Josh Outman in this article, since he'll miss the rest of the season. I'll probably look at Vince Mazzaro next, since he's only going to make one or two more starts.

Anyway, if you want to look at the Braden article, it's here. As for Outman...

 

STATISTICAL EVALUATION

Outman made 14 appearances this year, 12 of them starts, and posted a sparkling 3.48 ERA and 4-1 record.

Don't be too fooled by those results: the hard-throwing lefty is not an ace yet. His 4.36 FIP and 4.38 tRA show that his ERA is about one run luckier than he deserved.

Outman struck out 7.08 batters per nine innings while walking just 3.34, good for a 2.12 K/BB ratio. That's very solid but not quite overwhelming.

Outman did struggle some with the home run ball, giving up 1.20 homers per nine. This is somewhat troubling: you'd like a pitcher to keep his HR/9 below 1.00, especially in a park as big as Oakland's. 

Outman is a flyball pitcher (37.8 GB%) who does an average-ish job of limiting liners (18.9 percent). This would lead an analyst to project his BABIP to be in the .300 range, but instead, he posted a .243 mark in that category this season.

The low BABIP explains the discrepancy between Outman's ERA and his FIP/tRA: the defense just made plays behind him.

Outman doesn't throw a lot of strikes (just 47.9 percent of his pitches are in the zone) and gets an average amount of chase swings (25.1 percent of his outside-the-zone pitches draw swings).

He makes up for that somewhat by missing more bats than most (21.9 percent swing-and-miss rate, up from 19.5 percent league average).

This isn't the best of approaches: Outman throws fewer first-pitch strikes than average (55.4 percent to the average of 58.2 percent), leaving him to fight from behind in the count a lot. He eventually gets most batters out, but he often runs the count to 3-1 or 3-2 before doing it.

This explains his inefficiency as a pitcher—he'll give you five or six good innings, but you need a good bullpen to help Outman out.

Statistically, Outman is a pitcher still growing into himself. He's got the ability to miss bats and keep his walks reasonable, but he falls behind in the count too much, leading to some ill-placed 3-0 or 3-1 pitches that get hit hard. These pitches help explain the elevated homer rate. 

With more first-pitch strikes, Outman can move from pseudo-ace (which he is now because of that 3.48 ERA) to actual ace, or at least toward the front of the A's rotation.

 

SCOUTING EVALUATION

Outman throws four pitches: a huge fastball, a hard slider, a changeup, and a big curveball. 

He uses an unusual pitching motion as well. In high school and college, he used what many scouts consider to be the strangest delivery they've ever seen, but he ultimately changed it to a more conventional, if still odd-looking, motion.

Basically, he starts off really slowly, keeping most of his weight back through his legkick, until he gets to roughly the position you can see in the picture above. At that point, his body suddenly comes forward very quickly, and he releases the pitch. It's a somewhat deceptive, if mechanically iffy, delivery that makes the ball jump on hitters some.

Outman's fastball averages 92.8 mph, which may not sound too special until you realize we're talking about a lefty starting pitcher.

The 92.8 figure also underrates Outman's velocity somewhat: he averaged 94.0 with it last year, and was around that number again (93.8, if I remember right) before his second-to-last start this year. He averaged about 91 in that start, and then 88 in his final one, before his season ended with Tommy John surgery.

There's only one other lefty starting pitcher in the majors who averages 94 mph or more on his fastball, and his name is CC Sabathia.

The pitch has a bit of late life up in the zone, but its movement is fairly unremarkable. For all its velocity, Outman doesn't use the fastball too much—just 59.8 percent of the time this season, only slightly higher than Dallas Braden uses his heater, which goes about six mph slower.

I did an article a month or two ago about how fastball velocity doesn't correlate to fastball effectiveness, and Outman's heater appears to be a prime example, registering at just .13 runs above average per 100 pitches according to PTLWs.

It could be that the lack of movement counteracts Outman's excellent velocity somewhat, or maybe hitters always look for the pitch since scouts rate it as Outman's best offering. Whatever the reason, it's a solid pitch, but Outman's velocity doesn't mean that his fastball is unhittable.

Outman's second pitch is a slider that earns average reviews from scouts. It's a low-80's pitch, averaging 81.7 mph this year, so it's well over 10 mph slower than Outman's fastball. 

The pitch has average velocity and vertical drop, but it has 3-4 more inches of horizontal "sweep" than an average slider. 

The extra horizontal movement makes the pitch extremely tough on lefties, and also allows Outman to work the slider inside on right-handed batters as well.

Outman throws his slider 18.2 percent of the time, which isn't a whole lot for a No. 2 pitch. 

According to PTLWs, Outman's slider rates as one of the league's best, at 3.77 runs above average per 100 pitches. The excellent horizontal movement on the pitch certainly works in his favor.

The incredible results with the slider also support the "batters are really worried about the fastball" theory; in sitting on the heater, they leave themselves vulnerable to the offspeed stuff.

Further adding weight to that theory is the success of Outman's changeup, which was 1.75 runs above average this year. Like his slider, Outman's change was thought to be a usable if unexceptional pitch by scouts. Some even suggested that it wasn't good enough for him to start, and suggested that he should move to relief this year.

It comes in at basically the same speed as his slider, which, again, is far slower than the fastball. As I mentioned before, Outman's slow-early and quick-late delivery also adds some deception to the pitch.

It has average sink and slightly below-average fade to it, so the movement on the pitch isn't what's making it effective.

Outman uses the changeup 17.7 percent of the time, a pretty high amount, so it's not like hitters don't see it. The deception in his delivery, and again, the worries about his mid-90's velocity probably are the two factors that drive the success of Outman's changeup.

Outman also works in a slow curveball with impressive tilt, although scouts aren't enamored with it. He locates it well, particularly as a backdoor two-strike pitch to right-handed batters.

The pitch goes 75.8 mph on average, almost 20 mph slower than his fastball. It has the same amount of horizontal movement as his slider, but drops about 7.5 inches more, and ultimately has slightly-above-average movement for a curveball. 

Despite the good movement of the pitch, Outman hasn't seen much success with it, with PTLWs rating it 1.18 runs below average this year. It was 2.88 below average last year.

Outman doesn't use the curve much—just 4.6 percent this year—so it's ineffectiveness could be just a small-sample issue (he's only thrown it 5.7 percent of the time in 93 big-league innings), or maybe I'm just missing something with it. Anyway, it's a usable fourth pitch at least, and could be better than that.

With the second-hardest lefty starter fastball in the majors (perhaps tied for second with Clayton Kershaw), two very effective secondary pitches, and even a usable fourth pitch, Outman clearly has the stuff to be a frontline starter.

I mentioned the ability to get ahead in the count as the biggest need for the lefty to work on, and that applies scouting-wise as well. The only other thing I'd add in this section is perhaps the need for more rhythm in his delivery. His stuff is so good that he doesn't need to get all out of rhythm just to add a bit of deception.

Outman can easily lose his release point in a delivery like the one he uses, and as we've seen, it also causes elbow problems due to the quick acceleration of the pitching arm in mid-delivery. I'm not a biomechanics expert, but I'm fairly confident that Outman's motion does more harm than good, both on the field and in the trainer's room.

With some mechanical tweaks and more consistency, Josh Outman (assuming he comes back fine from Tommy John surgery next year) could progress to be a truly dominant left-handed starter with a devastating four-pitch mix.

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