clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is James Outman due for a regression after his hot start?

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

James Outman has been one of the biggest breakout stars in MLB this season. He’s posted a triple slash line of .265/.359/.544 with eight home runs and 23 RBI. It’s a great breakout for the 26-year-old and one the Dodgers badly needed due to some of their stars getting off to sluggish starts. But whilst this breakthrough performance is great, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is, is it actually sustainable or just a hot start?

The first thing to look at when evaluating a player early in his career for me personally is how his bat-to-ball skills are adapting to the major leagues. If a hitter has good contact skills the mid-season regression will be significantly reduced as the league starts to figure them out. In Outman’s case the short answer is, his bat-to-ball skills are very poor. Outman has a good eye which is evidenced by his chase rate of 24.1 percent which is in the 71st percentile. However, his whiff rate of 39.4 percent is in the first percentile and his strikeout rate of 33.3 percent sits in the fourth percentile. Additionally, his chase contact percentage of 35.5 percent is over 24 points lower than MLB average. So, long story short in terms of his plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills, he has a fantastic eye, but everything outside of that is poor.

Alright so despite the plate discipline not being where you want it to be, with how hot of a start he’s gotten off to the expected metrics have to be solid right?

Well, not really honestly, they grade out as very slightly above average to well below average. This chart shows that for the most part, Outman is not keeping the best company in those areas.

James Outman’s expected stats vs. other rookies

Player James Outman Shea Langeliers MJ Melendez
Player James Outman Shea Langeliers MJ Melendez
Team Dodgers A's Royals
xBA .227 .219 .234
xSLG .420 .418 .454
xwOBA .330 .305 .332
through May 15, 2023 Source: Baseball Savant

Now, the obvious counter to that is it is early in the year. Star players are struggling this early in the season including Manny Machado who has an xBA .213 with an xSLG of .354 and nobody is acting like the sky is falling with him. And while that’s is fair in a vacuum, the big-name stars that are near Outman in these areas are players with track records who have been there and done that. Outman has yet to do so, and personally I am very concerned with his plate discipline numbers.

What is additionally concerning for me is where the majority of Outman’s production is coming from.

James Outman vs pitch types

Statistic Fastball Breaking Offspeed
Statistic Fastball Breaking Offspeed
xBA .251 .193 .222
xSLG .448 .316 .548
xwOBA .356 .276 .354
Through May 15, 2023 Source: Baseball Savant

Most rookies traditionally have better success against fastballs and struggle elsewhere. I get that’s part of the process but it’s concerning for two reasons. First, Outman is an older prospect, having just turned 26, so you’d expect the learning curve for him to be a bit easier than most. Second, Outman’s metrics are already below league average for the most part and they are only going to get worse as he sees more breaking and off-speed pitches. Will his numbers against non-fastballs improve? Sure, they will, but on the flip side, until he proves that he can hit other pitches, he’s going to see less and fewer fastballs, the only pitch he’s had success against thus far.

“They’re pitching him up in the zone, and some borderline calls are going against him down below. I still think the intent to put together an at-bat is good. The results haven’t been good, but that’s part of it,” manager Dave Roberts said Monday. “I don’t think any of us expected this season to be completely linear, and that’s okay. I do know he’s prepared every day and he’ll find his way out of it.”

The biggest positive this season for Outman, and something that should continue though is the impact he has made in the field. His 1 out above average this season is in the 82nd percentile and his average arm strength of 91.3 mph sits in the 91st percentile. Both of which are obviously fantastic numbers and are much needed with Mookie Betts Gold Glove playing a lot of infield thus far this season.

I understand a lot of the article has been negative, and that is not intentional, I am simply trying to provide you with the facts as to how Outman has started this season. The baseball card numbers are great and have been much needed for this Dodgers team. However, they cannot rely on him to produce at this rate throughout the season, let alone the coming months without improvement.

Eric Stephen contributed to this article.