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May 18, 2008
As far as highly-regarded pitching prospects go, Josh Outman isn't particularly unique, but he used to be. Philadelphia's pick in the 10th round of the 2005 draft, the 23-year-old left-hander features a conventional pitching motion that has been completely retooled from the unorthodox and biomechanically-structured delivery he grew up with. David talked to Outman about his old motion, and what the change to a more traditional pitching style has meant to his career.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
Josh Outman: For lack of a better term, I'd call myself a power pitcher. I like to go after guys with my fastball, although I've been trying to work in more breaking balls over the last year or so. I've been doing a better job of throwing my changeup for strikes, and I also throw a curve and a slider. My curve is more of a show me pitch right now, while my slider is more of an out pitch. Velocity-wise, I'm between 90 and 94 with my fastball; my slider is around 83-86, and my curve is in the mid-70s.
DL: Your curveball reportedly went into your back pocket last year. Why was that?
JO: At the end of last season we were focusing more on my slider, so I did get away from it somewhat. I am throwing it again, though. I'm more comfortable having both the slider and curve in my repertoire.
DL: You grew up utilizing a unique pitching motion, which was taught to you by your father, and you changed it prior to becoming eligible for the draft. In an interview last year, you said that your old motion "wasn't something that was projectable in the minds of Major League Baseball." Can you elaborate on that?
JO: It was just something that fell outside of the previous profile for draftability so there was a concern that it would scare people off. There are no pitching coaches who know it, or previous players who have used it, so I changed to a more conventional style to fit in better with people's expectations of what a pitcher looks like. With a guy like Dontrelle Willis, his motion is more of a variation on a theme. Mine was its own unique theme.
DL: How would you describe the old motion?
JO: You would start from what would look like the stretch, your glove side facing the plate with the pitching hand in the glove. The pitching arm would then go to where the humerus is vertical, or the pitching elbow facing the sky and the elbow at a 90-degree angle. The glove would come up to where it appeared as though you were catching your glove-arm shoulder while bringing the glove elbow up high enough to conceal the baseball that is positioned almost behind your head. Then, taking a walking step towards the plate you would deliver the pitch. This isn't an easy thing to imagine, and the description is a vast oversimplification of the actual technicality of the motion, but if you ever saw it you would know what I was talking about.
DL: 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?
JO: 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.
DL: Unconventionality aside, were there any disadvantages to the motion?
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.
DL: How difficult was the transition into a more conventional pitching motion, and were the biggest obstacles mental or physical? Also, have you ever reached a total comfort level with it?
JO: The transition was the most difficult challenge I've ever faced in my baseball career. The biggest obstacle of the switch was, and still is, physical. It has been an ongoing struggle to gain control over my body using the conventional approach and only now, four years into the process, am I starting to settle in.
DL: While it's comparably conventional, your current motion is often described as deceptive. How would you describe your mechanics?
JO: Just like everyone else's, so I think the deception comes from two separate causes. The first being that I have a quick arm, something that was a direct result of the mechanics I used to use. The second being that I am not very big, so I think that hitters don't expect that kind of velocity from someone my size. [Ed. Note: Outman is listed at 6'1" and 185 pounds.]
DL: You were recently moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. What reason were you given, and what impact will it have on you as a pitcher?
JO: The move was made to give me an opportunity to make it to the major leagues faster. I think it will have a minimal but good impact on me as a pitcher. I think it will give me a chance to be a more versatile pitcher and get experience in game situations that I have never really been in before.
DL: Looking at the big picture, what impact did moving away from your old pitching motion have on you--not mechanically and opportunity-wise, but from a mental standpoint?
JO: It was extremely frustrating. I had to take steps backwards performance-wise, especially the first couple years. It was aggravating becoming so wild after I never had any problems with walks through my first two years in junior college. And competing in general became difficult early in the transition because I really didn't have much of an idea what I was doing mechanically. Competing against hitters, and other pitchers, who had been using basically the same mechanics their whole lives and knew what they were doing in the batters' box and on the mound, respectively, got to be very demoralizing when the success wasn't there like it had been.
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.