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2013 Colorado Rockies Player Review: Josh Outman

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Josh Outman was acquired as a starter, but relief appearances may be the solution to extending his own career.

Dustin Bradford

Since joining the Colorado Rockies, Josh Outman has been a bit of a mystery to me. Outman was acquired by the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2012 season along with Guillermo Moscoso in exchange for Seth Smith. Moscoso obviously didn't pan out (until he joined the Royals, of course), but Outman has stuck around as the Rockies have attempted to figure out what his role on the pitching staff would be.

The mystery aspect of Josh Outman wasn't wondering if he was really Old Man Flanigan in a rubber mask trying to close down Lakeside, but more "what can we get out of this guy in terms of major league production?" After Moscoso was shuffled off to Kansas City and Outman posted a 8.19 ERA over 7 starts and 20 relief outings, it seemed like the Rockies' return for Smith was going to be a complete waste.

Here's where I'll post the tl;dr portion of this article, as there's a lot of really unnecessary analysis and exposition upcoming:

Josh Outman's days as a starter are done, but the Rockies have a decent middle-relief/LOOGY guy in their bullpen now, cost controlled for a 2 more seasons, and has unignorable platoon splits as well. He won't be in any all star games or winning any Rolaids Relief awards anytime soon, but he'll at least be an effective piece for Colorado. Thanks for reading, have a great day.

For those of you who have stuck around through 2ish paragraphs, let's get to the good stuff.

Expectations of Outman were somewhat vague. After Tommy John surgery sidelined Outman for the 2nd half of 2009 and the entirety of 2010, Oakland was understandably hesitant with how they approached his workloads. Well, that and the fact that Oakland has that ability to trade for and farm a steady crop of incredibly affordable pitching so there may have been limited room for Oakland.

As a side note, and the Matzek fans out there will be interested to read this, but Outman's original pitching mechanics were right in line with the Mike Marshall school of pitching, according to this article from The Hardball Times. Take a look, I think you'll see a lot of parallels with Matzek and his handling.

What made 2013 different for Outman with Colorado is that they didn't waste a lick of time in the rotation. Which is good, in my estimation. Outman is a trademark Dan O'Dowd acquisition, in that he's a failed starter from another organization in perfect position to be recast as a reliever. It took a season for them to realize: no, Outman shouldn't be in the rotation, especially given his .949 OPS allowed and 8.89 ERA during his limited time in that role. Granted, he wasn't THAT much better out of the pen, but what we did see was a drastic boost to his peripherals: 7.9 K/9 and 1.77 K/BB ratio as a starter, 10.7 K/9 and 2.43 K/BB in relief. Pretty cut and dry decision.

2013, while not stellar, was a drastic improvement on 2012, and yet another opportunity for the Rockies to continue trimming down the situations where Outman was prone to failure to leave the most opportunities for success. Ideally, we'd like to see Outman transform into a left handed Matt Belisle or Adam Ottavino. It's not unfathomable.

We've seen the best groundball rates of Outman's career in 2013, a general sign of potential success for a Colorado pitcher. This season also showed the lowest FIP and xFIP of his career, and a good part of that is likely the stability of having a set role on the staff instead of bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. Additionally, Outman abandoned his curveball, throwing the slider 7% more often than last year, a pitch which many Colorado pitchers (including the aforementioned Ottavino) have cited success with.

Outman's numbers show that general trend of improvement, but trying to break down a good role for him in 2014 requires a bit more number crunching and stat vomiting.

First of all, the platoon splits from 2013.

vs RHP: K/9: 5.5; BB/9: 4.7; K/BB:1.17; wOBA allowed: .387; xFIP: 4.77

vs LHP: K/9: 11.32; BB/9: 3.19; K/BB: 3.55; wOBA allowed: .249; xFIP: 2.76

Now, these numbers by themselves show that Outman dominates lefties to the point where the average lefty bats like a left handed Adeiny Hechavarria, while the average righty looks more like Edwin Encarnacion. Righty = hit, Lefty = no hit.

This all said, it would seem the obvious role for Outman would be to keep him as a situational lefty, get the David Ortiz type players of the NL out in tricky situations. When facing a lefty, plate appearances ended in positive fashion 96 times as compared to 34 bad outcomes, per WPA and RE24, or a 2,82 ratio. Righties clocked in at 67 TO 50, or a 1.34 ratio.

(For the stat guys, I know that using WPA and RE24 is a specious methodology, but I know that Weiss and the Front office will be looking at results and see what worked and what didn't. Given that were predicting a reliever's future role, which is a manager's decision, I guess using a better means of a results-oriented analysis isn't the worst way to go.)

But here's the wrinkle in that whole logic: if you look at Outman's individual outings rather than the individual batters, we see that for outings 1 inning or longer, the RE24/WPA result was positive 21 times to 9 negative, or 2.33 good to bad, while outings less than an inning were 18 to 13, or a 1.38 ratio.

To put that into better plainspeak, plate appearances against lefties that turned out well dominated the same against righties, but longer outings turned out better for Outman than shorter. Now, this could be the result of INTENDED outings being shortened by poor results and a hook from Walt Weiss, or perhaps it means that Outman just shouldn't be trusted with inherited runners. Nearly half of Outman's plate appearances were with the bases empty, which points to a combination of starting innings in relief and being somewhat successful in those situations.

This might all suggest that Outman could be potentially dual-tasked as a lefty specialist AND a long relief man. I do wonder how focus and concentration have to change for a long outing vs facing one batter. He did perform well in high leverage situations, allowing a mere .254 wOBA in high leverage situations (as defined by Fangraphs). Could be signs of good things to come.

For outings of only 1 out, Outman's average WPA was -.001, with an average Leverage Index of 1.71 (high/high-ish leverage). Outings greater than an inning showed an average WPA of 0.014, and an aLI of 0.59 (very low). It stands to reason that longer outings were mopup outings where the game was out of hand enough in either direction really have much impact on the ultimate outcome, while the shorter outings were where Weiss really needed that left hander out and only had Outman to turn to because Rex Brothers, the only other lefty, is the closer, and we point out the obvious strategic silliness in the Closer Mentality (and that Brothers is the only one allowed coffee).

So what to do? Long relievers aren't terribly hard to find. Look at all of them the 2012 Rockies had. But is Outman really suited to the LOOGY role? I don't see it. Not because his platoon splits don't make sense for it, but I think the Rockies should move Outman from the long/middle relief role to a middle/specialized relief role and begin giving him some more shots in higher leverage situations.

Finding a way to turn Josh Outman into a left handed Matt Belisle would obviously be a boon for the Rockies. It would be a boon for Outman. Failed starters are floating all over the waiver wire, but effective relief pitchers - especially left handed relievers - are in a bit more demand. Even if the Rockies get nothing more out of Outman than the CBA demands and he sails for fame and fortune once he is eligible to file for free agency, converting Outman into a reasonably successful reliever, along with Ottavino and Belisle, show that the Rockies do have one successful means of acquiring pitchers and stocking a Major League bullpen.