At the start of the season, I posed the question of whether we would see another record number of three true outcomes specialists in 2018. We knew then that the rates of three true outcomes had been steadily increasing through 2017, and that the number of three true outcome specialists peaked at 17 specialists in 2017. The all-star break seems like a good time to check in and see if we are on track for another record breaking season.
Who are the Three True Outcome Specialists?
The three true outcomes rate for the average major league batter has been steadily increasing in recent years. Along with this average change, there has been a more unusual batter who takes an extreme approach at the plate resulting in a dominant three true outcome season. This is a hitter, in the mold of Rob Deer, who has at least 49% of their plate appearances result in either a home run, a strikeout, or a walk. The number of specialists has been increasing since the 1990s, and peaked last year with 17 three true outcome specialists.
At the 2018 All-Star Break, the number of specialists sits at 10. Table 1 lists the 10 three true outcome specialists at the All-Star break. It includes home run, walk, and strikeout rates, and the combined three true outcomes rate. I got here pretty easily: For each player with at least 170 plate appearances, I added their home runs, strikeouts and walks in a season and divided that by the number of plate appearances. That provides the proportion of three outcomes plate appearances for each player. The table includes all those batters that crossed the 49% threshold.
Table 1. Three Outcomes Specialists at the All-Star Break
There are some familiar faces on this list: Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Mike Zunino, and Kyle Schwarber were on the list last year. And some new ones: Max Muncy has found his power and been a surprise for the Dodgers this year. Ian Happ’s and Matt Davidson’s newfound plate discipline has moved him onto this list of specialists as has Robinson Chirinos lack of plate discipline. Perhaps seeing Bryce Harper on this list is most surprising. His strikeout rate is about 5% higher than his typical rate, moving him onto the list.
Looking at the MLB Averages is also interesting. Historically, the 2018 rates of home runs, strikeouts and walks are high – but they are currently the same rates as 2017. So, maybe, we won’t see an increase in the average three true outcomes rates in 2018. There is still a lot of season left, so too soon to reach any conclusions.
What about those hitters who were on the list of three true outcomes specialists last year, but didn’t make it at the All-Star break? Table two lists those batters.
Table 2. 13 Previous Three True Outcomes Specialists
The story in this table is plate appearances. First, Matt Olson and Eric Thames are getting their at bats because they are decent hitters. Olson is not quite living up to his late call up last season, Thames is looking slightly better than 2017; both are making contributions. Thames has missed time with injuries this year. A few more of these hitters are not getting at bats for health reasons: Drew Robinson, Jabari Blash and Mike Napoli are all down with injuries. The remaining players are not getting at bats because of a lack of contribution to the team. Jake Marisnick, Miguel Sano, Keon Broxton, and Cameron Rupp all either started the season in Triple A or were optioned during the season. Chris Carter and Ryan Schimpf were released by the Twins and Angels respectively. Being a three true outcomes specialist can result in some attention, but it is can also be a vulnerable approach, particularly when strikeout rates get out of hand. MLB teams have become more tolerant of high strikeout rates, but they have their limits.
Chris Davis and Alex Avila are the unusual cases in Table 2. They are both getting their at bats despite very high strikeout rates. As long as the Orioles and Diamondbacks see some value in them, we might expect them, and perhaps some other newcomers, to make it to the list of three true outcomes specialists at the end of the season.