How Josh Outman really wants to throw a baseballby Kyle Boddy
April 17, 2013
If the name Josh Outman is mentioned to average baseball fans, they might remember that he pitched in Colorado and gave up a ton of runs—and prior to that, pitched in Oakland and gave up a fair amount of runs. Beyond that, not much stands out. His delivery isn't unique, he doesn't throw terribly hard, and he is pretty forgettable. He is, after all, basically a replacement-level pitcher.
This is Outman pitching with the Oakland Athletics:
Nothing special about that—pretty average delivery for a left-handed pitcher. With Oakland, his fastball velocity was 93-94 mph. He combined that with a slider, curve and change.
But here's how Josh Outman first learned how to throw a baseball:
The Outman Methodology
Josh and his brother, Zach, were taught to throw a baseball by their father, Fritz Outman. Fritz has developed the Outman Methodology, which is a method of throwing a baseball in a manner that is certainly not conventional.
The Outman Methodology hopes to deliver a pitch on a purely vertical plane and to avoid side-to-side casting of the pitching arm. In this respect, it is similar to the mechanical pattern of Dr. Mike Marshall's ideal theoretical delivery. However, it differs from both the Marshall-style delivery and the conventional traditional pitching mechanical model in a variety of ways, as evidenced by Josh's video above. The specific details can be found on the Outman Methodology website, which is quite detailed, to say the least!
Fritz and I have spoken a number of times via email and phone, and he's been a great source of information. I've folded in some of the methods I've learned into how I train baseball pitchers, and I believe the concepts have been immensely useful. However, regardless of my thoughts on the full Outman Methodology—or even what positive or negative aspects it may have—the question that always eluded me was this: Why was Josh forced to change how he throws the baseball?
Josh Outman's success in high school and junior college was well-documented—his fastball velocity was easily 90+ as a high school senior and as a JC pitcher, and he had solid peripherals while using the Outman Methodology. However, he was told that he would go undrafted unless he changed his mechanics to something a little more conventional.
So when he went to Central Missouri, he adopted a traditional wind-up and set position for the first time in his life, posting pretty solid statistics while doing so, despite the fact that he was really learning to throw all over again. Pitchers struggle with making the smallest change in their mechanics; imagine scrapping everything you know about how to throw a baseball and replacing it with an entirely different model! Do you think you'd suffer control problems? Lose velocity?
Outman would go on to be drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, going in the 10th round. He would progress through the minors—albeit with a high walk rate—and would be traded with Adrian Cardenas and Matthew Spencer to Oakland in the Joe Blanton deal.
Prior to the 2009 season, Josh would give an interview with David Lauria (then with Baseball Prospectus). In the interview, he touched on why he was forced to change his pitching mechanics:
David Lauria: Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle was quoted as saying that you probably would have been drafted much lower had you not changed your motion, because people would have been afraid of the injury factor. What are your thoughts on that?
Josh Outman: I think that was an assumption made under faulty information. What I was taught actually took stress off of my arm, so there wasn't full comprehension on how my motion worked. Using a vertical arm position freed up my rotator cuff and enabled the use of the larger pectoral and abdominal muscle groups rather than the smaller deltoids and various other shoulder muscles. It used my lats to slow my arm down rather than just the posterior deltoids, and because those are larger, stronger muscles that can withstand more force, it took a large workload off of my shoulder muscles. And eliminating the leg kick in lieu of a normal walking step, I was expending less energy to get the same production from my body, while sparing my throwing arm much of the wear and tear associated with pitching.
When asked about advantages and disadvantages to the switch:
DL: Unconventionality aside, were there any disadvantages to the motion?I added the bold for emphasis, because in 2009, Josh Outman would suffer an injury to his pitching elbow&mdasdh;requiring Tommy John surgery. He missed half of the 2009 season and the entirety of 2010.
JO: What's interesting is that it never really even came up. Nobody was really interested if there was an actual downside. People just thought that it didn't look right and was therefore wrong and needed to be changed. The answer to the question is no, I don't think there were any disadvantages.
DL: Are there specific advantages, or disadvantages, with your current motion?
JO: The biggest disadvantage is the added stress and wear and tear that is put on my pitching arm. The only real advantage at this point is that I am able to play baseball professionally using conventional mechanics.
Josh would pitch in 2011, and though his velocity was down a tick, he was fairly effective using traditional statistics, throwing 58.1 innings and posting a 3.70 ERA, though his xFIP was 4.77 and his strikeout rate had dropped. He would be traded in the offseason to the Colorado Rockies for Seth Smith, and during that time, gave an interview to David Lauria again (with Fangraphs). David asked Josh about his elbow injury:
David Laurila: You blew out your arm in the middle of the 2009 season. Would that have happened with your old delivery?David asked Josh a bunch of questions about the Outman Methodology as well as his traditional delivery, then closed with this depressing exchange:
Josh Outman: The injury itself was a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament, which is the Tommy John ligament. Would it have happened with my old delivery? There’s no way to know for sure. Would the probability have been lessened? Yes, I think so.
DL: What do think would happen if you walked into camp and announced that you were going back to your old delivery?I have independently verified through sources then with the Athletics that Josh asked to modify his delivery to get closer to the Outman Methodology way of throwing a ball, and the player development department steadfastly refused to allow him to do so, threatening to permanently stash in him in Triple-A or even a lower minor league affiliate. From what I was told, no one even asked questions, and when Josh tried to escalate the issue, he ran into continual resistance and eventually gave up.
JO: I think what would happen is that I’d find myself out of a job, or at least not in the same position that I want to be in. I can’t speak to the Rockies, because I’m new to the organization and have just had the one conversation, but it seems like just about anyone would be willing to watch, just to see it. But as far as accepting it&mdasdh;being willing to take a chance on it… I don’t know.
Despite being lights out in spring training as a reliever, Outman was sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs to begin the 2013 season. He is still pitching conventionally, and as long as he does, he will likely stay a replacement-level pitcher.
What is the risk in allowing Josh to throw the way he was taught—a way that he insists will significantly reduce his control problems and increase the command of his entire arsenal? It's clear that Colorado does not see him as a fixture in the big league rotation or bullpen. The Rockies don't have a lot of investment in him (unlike their first-round Marshall hybrid pitcher Tyler Matzek, which is a story for another day), so why force him to fail doing the thing he doesn't want to do?
However, things may be changing: A pitching coordinator with a different team told me "If we could get Josh in our system, we'd let him use the Outman Methodology in the minors until he proved to us he could compete at the big-league level. And we'd have no problem letting him use it there."
Outman's long-term future may not be with Colorado, but he should know that his dream (stated back in the 2008 Lauria interview) may still be alive:
DL: Can you foresee a scenario in which Josh Outman stands on the mound in a professional game and delivers a pitch with his old motion?
JO: Yes, I can. It may not be in the near future, but at some point the time will be right.
Kyle Boddy is the owner of Driveline Baseball and Driveline Biomechanics Research, both in Seattle, Washington. At his facility, he's melded statistical analysis, strength & conditioning, prehab/rehab, and advanced biomechanical analysis concepts to develop improved efficiency, durability, and fastball velocity of baseball pitchers. He is the author of The Dynamic Pitcher, a comprehensive book and video set dedicated to developing elite youth baseball pitchers.
He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter: @drivelinebases.