MLB: A deep-dive on James Outman’s rookie season

September 17, 2023

Drafted No. 224 in the 2018 MLB draft out of Sacramento State by the Los Angeles Dodgers at 22-years-old, James Outman was fast-tracked through the minors, going from Single-A ball in 2019 to getting 16 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2022. Upon starting his rookie year in 2023 with the big league club, Outman was ranked the No. 89 prospect in baseball, and Future Stars Series’ own Joe Doyle had him ranked the No. 10 prospect in the Dodgers organization, and Jason A, Churchill added this about him at the start of the year:

“Outman is a very good athlete with plus speed and a chance to hit 15-20 homers and post good OBPs.”

That has about hit the nail on the head regarding the rookie center-fielder’s season so far, as we head into the final two weeks. Outman is slashing .248/.357/.428 with 19 home runs, holding a 118 wRC+ while playing solid defense in center field (currently No. 8 among all qualified fielders in MLB in OAA). He is second among all qualified National League rookies in fWAR (first belongs to Corbin Carroll) at 3.9.

Outman underwent some swing changes after the Dodgers drafted him, and that will take some getting used to. Thus, despite all the surface numbers looking solid, there’s some underlying data that suggests there is a lot that Outman needs to improve to duplicate that kind of year, or better. Here’s what I found.

Paramount on the list of concerns are the strikeout numbers. 32% on the year (5th worst among all qualified rookies) and to make matters worse the whiff% sits at 37.4 which is in the 3rd percentile of all major leaguers. A closer look shows that Outman vs breaking balls is the equivalent to Wile E. Coyote facing off against roadrunner. One usually wins, and Outman isn’t the roadrunner. Just an 8% barrel rate vs breaking pitches and a staggering 32.2% chase rate resulting in an xBA of .173.

The Sacramento State product has a BABIP (bases on balls in play) of .347, that’s probably a bit lucky given that his weak contact rate (5.8%) is higher than league average (3.9) and his average exit velocity ranks 190th in MLB at 88mph. The launch angle sits at 16.2 and if one had to guess, I would guess that he is flying out a lot. 41.4% fly ball rate, 22.2% line drive and 36.3% ground ball with a 12.5 infield fly ball rate. Outman would do well to try and bring the launch angle down slightly and try to hit the ball on a line more.

The zone contact% sits 10% below league average at 72%, and the chase contact% sits 18% below league average at 36%. These two data points heavily attribute to the huge strikeout numbers Outman is carrying this season, however on a positive note… the rookie does seem to be gradually improving his swing and miss percentages on all types of pitches.

Outman’s ISO (Slg-Avg) sits at .180, which isn’t pedestrian by any means. However, with his speed and power having just 14 doubles to go with the 19 home runs will need to significantly improve if the strikeout rate is going to hover around 28-32% for his career.

The good news for Outman is he is crushing fastballs and changeups. Against the changeup, Outman carries a .347 batting average with four home runs and as for the fastball, .258 average with a .447 slug. He sits 4% below league average in overall chase% on all pitches, and carries an above average Hard hit% at 41.7. The walk rate (12.6%) is stellar and what is allowing for the OBP to sit so high, and probably for Outman to remain an everyday player at this point. This is a good sign, a mature approach and seeing the ball well can go a long way for a young player like Outman.

The other tool helping Outman stay in the lineup everyday is defense. Outman ranks in the top 10 in all qualified fielders in major league baseball in OAA (outs above average) and carries a sprint speed in the 89th percentile. The arm is also above average from CF and sits in the 61st percentile in arm value.

An up and down season, Outman is struggling in September thus far (.171/.348/343 with just six hits in 46 plate appearances) and after a strong July and August. The culprit seems to be struggling to hit the fastball, with just a 36.4% whiff on the pitch for the month after averaging just 31% whiff on it for the rest of the year. We’ll see if Outman can turn it around for the playoffs and help the Dodgers advance.

Check out Joe Doyle’s Top 30 prospects update for the Dodgers from August 7.

Casey Bellon

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