What happened to Dodgers OF James Outman?

The Dodgers as part of a slew of roster moves in mid-May sent down second-year outfielder James Outman. While it certainly wasn’t what Outman or the Dodgers expected after his sensational rookie campaign, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can work his way back into the fold with the big club.

On the surface the dip in numbers could be written off as pitchers simply figuring Outman out in his second season. His strikeout rate climbed, his walk rate dipped, his average and on-base percentage plummeted, and he tagged only seven extra-base hits in 124 plate appearances to start the year. 

However, Fabian Ardaya of the Athletic wrote when Outman was sent down that “Dodgers coaches found Outman often in-between on pitches, sorting through mechanical and approach tweaks without much to steady him.”

Getting at-bats in Triple-A should help cure some of what ails the 27-year-old outfielder, and the peripheral numbers provided by FanGraphs offer some positive signs that a progression to the mean is coming.

Despite his dip in production at the plate, Outman actually saw his hard hit rate jump 10 points from last year to 39.1 percent. He also used the whole field more often with his pull rate dipping and his opposite field usage climbing more than four points to 26.1 percent. He also hit line drives more often in his 36 Big League games this year than he did a season ago.

Those are all numbers that project well for Outman long-term and they don’t necessarily track when it comes to accounting for his struggles this season at the plate. 

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Digging a little deeper gets us to an answer, and also allows us to quantify what it means to be “in-between on pitches.” 

Outman this season has started swinging a little more often at pitches out of the strike zone (up 1.4 percent), and a little less often at pitches in the strike zone (down 1.6 percent). He’s also seen his foul strike percentage leap a whopping 12.7 percent and he’s taking called strikes more often as well (2.3 percent more often to be exact). 

It’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on, but the available data hints strongly that “he’s just not seeing it well.” More called strikes, more foul balls where he’s late or early, and fewer swings at stuff in the zone while chasing more stuff out of the zone are all fixable things with regular plate appearances. That’s what the Dodgers are hoping he’ll get out of this stint in the minors. 

The good news is a few days off might have already been helpful. Outman debuted with Oklahoma City on Tuesday and went 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and one strikeout in five plate appearances. 

That’s a good start for Outman. If he starts seeing the ball better and getting more comfortable in his approach, he should be back up and hitting effectively sooner rather than later. 

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