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What’s next for James Outman after his rookie season?

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

Dodgers center fielder James Outman is coming off of a solid rookie season. He hit 23 home runs, hit .248/.353/.437 with a 118 wRC+, knocked in 70 runs and stole 16 bases. He finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

On the surface those numbers indicate that he is going to be a long-term piece for the Dodgers who can hit 30+ home runs over the course of a season as he continues to mature. However, it is not all positive when it comes to Outman as a player. He is going to turn 27 next season which will limit his overall ceiling and the underlying metrics are not nearly as fond of Outman as the back-of-the-baseball-card numbers.

When you compare some of the core hitting expected metrics to other players around the league, Outman’s production becomes less impressive as a whole.

James Outman vs others

2023 Stats Outman Carlos Santana Dominic Smith
2023 Stats Outman Carlos Santana Dominic Smith
xBA 0.228 0.236 0.256
xSLG 0.396 0.373 0.397
xwOBA 0.326 0.306 0.322

Now the intention of that chart is not to indicate that Outman is a bad player, but it is more so done to show the caliber of hitters in his range in 2023. I think most Dodgers fans would confidently say Dominic Smith and Carlos Santana are not the caliber of hitters this LA lineup needs, especially with the potential loss of J.D. Martinez.

But, over the final three months of the season, Outman really found himself as a hitter.

Second half improvement

2nd half stats June July August September
2nd half stats June July August September
xBA 0.202 0.276 0.259 0.229
xSLG 0.325 0.453 0.471 0.393
xwOBA 0.264 0.382 0.38 0.325
Barrel rate 7.30% 8.50% 15.40% 11.90%

Sure, there was a little bit of a slump for Outman in September compared to his July/August breakout. Although, his September numbers were still considerably better than anything he did in May and June. So, why the sudden improvement for Outman?

For starters, his strikeout rate dropped considerably and his walk rate spiked. His strikeout percentage in the month of June was an unsightly 35.6 percent, but it dropped to 25.3 percent in July and the highest it got over the months of August and September was 31.1 percent. That is still a rough number, but improvement of that size is very notable in a player’s first season.

His walk rate in June was 6.8 percent. In July it skyrocketed to 16.9 percent, sat at 15.5 percent in the month of August and “dropped” to 12.3 percent in September. Additionally, Outman’s average launch angle in May and June was 23 and 22 degrees, respectively. From July onward it went 10, 11 and 15 degrees, numbers that indicate he was not being nearly home-run happy, which in turn led to his power jump over the final two months.

Going forward, will Outman be a contributing piece to this Dodgers team in 2024 and beyond? The short answer for me is I think he can be, but I still do have my fair share of concerns. Outman showed steady improvement as a player over the course of the season across the board so it is likely he will carry those improvements into next season and continue to improve at the dish. However, he is a player who swings and misses at a terribly high rate. His whiff rate of 36.6 percent was in the second percentile in baseball last season and his K rate of 31.9 percent was in the sixth percentile. Those are numbers that do not instill significant confidence.

But I believe the overall strides he had as a player over the course of the 2023 season indicates that he will be at worst a league-average hitter in 2023.