Josh Outman was back last year after missing the 2010 season due to an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery. That alone doesn’t make him unique — plenty of hurlers undergo the procedure — but there‘s more to the story.
Outman was employing a conventional delivery when his pitching elbow gave out, but that hadn’t always been the case. Prior to being drafted — in 2005 by the Phillies — the hard-throwing southpaw utilized a biomechanically-structured delivery that was developed by his father, Fritz. When I first interviewed Outman, in 2008, he described it this way.
“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.”
Outman, who was acquired by the Rockies earlier this off-season, made 14 appearances with Oakland last year, going 3-5 with a 3.70 ERA. He was 4-1, 3.48, in 12 starts, at the time of his 2009 injury.
David Laurila: You blew out your arm in the middle of the 2009 season. Would that have happened with your old delivery?
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.
I hadn’t had any issues with my elbow prior to the injury. On the pitch that I felt the initial reaction on, I actually slipped and threw the ball from a position that I wasn’t accustomed to. Had that not happened, who’s to say whether the injury would or would not have eventually occurred.
DL: Were you back to full strength last season??
JO: Everything felt normal as far as my health goes, but I did struggle with finding my delivery. After taking a year off, with all the setbacks, there were some things I had to get healthy and I was trying to find my form. During that period of time, I kind of lost the feeling.
With the procedure I had, they used a tendon from my hamstring to repair my elbow, and that added to the equation of getting comfortable with my delivery again. The arm strength was there, but my landing side would fatigue easily, because the flexibility and strength weren’t there. I had a lot of problems getting my landing leg back into the shape that it needed to be in.
DL: Did that impact your command?
JO: My command definitely wasn’t as good as I’d have liked it to be, or as good as it had been in seasons past. My breaking stuff also wasn’t as crisp. A lot of repetitions were needed to get that back, and toward the end of the season — September, especially — my off-speed stuff really came around.
My strikeout numbers were down, as well. The lack of crispness on my breaking ball, and the command of my fastball not being what I needed it to be, probably contributed to that equally. The fastballs that I’d usually set up my slider with weren’t in the right locations, so even if I got a strike out of them, it was tough to get my slider to start where I needed it to in order to get swings and misses. I had a harder time getting right-handers to bite on the back-foot slider, and the slider down in the dirt.
DL: Was your velocity all the way back?
JO: It was a little lower than it had been, although toward the end of the year it started to come back. Because of the innings-limit the A’s had me on, I came back to the major league club [from Triple-A] as a reliever late in the season. My velocity jumped up then. I had a couple of games where I was in the 94-96 range, which is what I had been accustomed to topping out at. Earlier in the year, I was around 89-92 and now and again I‘d hit 93.
Having just pitched a full year, and having a normal off-season, I should have my velocity back to where I’m averaging 92-94, and reaching a little higher when I need to.
DL: Are park factors are concern for you, moving from Oakland to Colorado?
JO: Throughout my career, I’ve been a fly-ball pitcher, although I don’t actually know the numbers. Being a fly-ball pitcher obviously plays in your favor in Oakland, and it helped to have some fantastic outfielders, especially in the big part of the ballpark. You could make pitches and have the ball hit to center, and the centerfielder would go get it.
I think Colorado will be a little different, because if I just let them hit the ball to center, it might go out. But I’m not going to try to change how I pitch. I’m going to try to be just as aggressive as I’ve always been, using my fastball to get ahead and pitching inside. If you start going away from what you do and start worrying about giving up home runs, you’ll start walking people. Then the home runs you’re inevitably going to give up become two- and three-run shots instead solos.
DL: Getting back to your delivery, in the 2008 interview you said you could see yourself going back to the old one in the future. Do you still think that’s possible?
JO: I could still see it happening, but there would have to be a lot of changes in Major League Baseball. The overall approach to mechanics and injury prevention would have to change — people would have to broaden their horizons a little bit — and I’m not sure that’s ready to happen. There would have to be more of a willingness to think outside the box.
There are a lot of general managers looking deeper into ways of keeping pitchers healthy. They’re actively searching, so I think it’s maybe just a matter of time until someone looks a little deeper into what my dad is teaching. His method is biomechanically sound and I was throwing in the low 90s with the delivery he taught me.
In the 2008 interview, Outman described what makes the delivery bio-mechanically sound:
“What I was taught took stress off of my arm. 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. In 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: Ron Romanick was your pitching coach in Oakland last year. Did you ever talk to him about your delivery?
JO: I talked in-depth with him about mechanics, but I never got into detail about my past. I just left it to what was applicable to the current situation. He’s very well-versed in the teaching of conventional mechanics. He’s done a lot of research and read a lot of studies that guys like Glen Fleisig have done. He’s a pretty smart guy on that topic, but as for what he knows about my background, I’m not sure. He never mentioned it.
DL: Bob Apodaca is the pitching coach in Colorado. Have you talked to him yet?
JO: I had a brief conversation with him on the day I was traded, but we didn’t talk about mechanics. From what I’ve been told, he’s not real big on trying to mess around with mechanics; he primarily likes to see what guys do as far as their deliveries and lets them stick with that.
DL: What do think would happen if you walked into camp and announced that you were going back to your old delivery?
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 — being willing to take a chance on it… I don’t know.