Examining Three True Outcome Percentage

Take a look at Chris Davis‘s stat line in August: 11 games, 45 PA, 14 Ks, 7 BBs, 6 HRs. Nothing really jumps out; it’s pretty typical for Chris Davis. Looking deeper though, this selection of plate appearances is actually quite remarkable. 27 out of the 45, or 60% of them, ended with a strikeout, walk, or home run, known as the “three true outcomes” where the ball does not end up in play.

As Baseball Prospectus explains in its definition of TTO, the statistic actually gained relevance with the introduction of DIPS, FIP, and other pitching estimators that ignored the outcomes of balls in play. While still not commonly used, it’s certainly interesting to take a look at once in a while to see what players are taking luck into their own hands.

Chris Davis is actually not the most extreme three true outcome player. Despite his 60 TTO% August, his season-long percentage through August 13 stands at 48.9%, good for 5th in baseball of those who have at least 300 plate appearances. The rest of the top-10 leaderboard features both good names and bad. On the good side, we have Giancarlo Stanton, the only player to feature a HR% over 8% (his is 8.5% , and he actually leads second-place Nelson Cruz by 1.4%). Other names you might associate with quality players are Bryce Harper, Joc Pederson, and George Springer, all of whom have a K% under 30% and a HR% of over 4%. The players who might not be as happy to be on this list include the aforementioned Chris Davis, Chris Carter, Steven Souza, Kris Bryant, and Colby Rasmus, who all feature a K% of 31% or higher. Mike Zunino, who comes in at 10th, sports a walk rate and home run rate of just 5.6% and 2.8%, respectively, but more than makes up for it with a 34.2% strikeout rate, second only to Souza.

Now that we’re done with the fun facts, let’s get into what it really means. TTO players are swing-for-the-fence players, those who aim to hit the ball over the wall every time they make contact. This is the cause behind their multitude of strikeouts. It also accounts for their walks, with the reasoning that pitchers are simply afraid to throw them hittable pitches.

The real question becomes “Are these TTO players valuable?” Looking at a graph comparing TTO% to wRC+ over the past 15 years, there is little correlation. It seems as though it is slightly more productive to be a TTO player, mainly because of the home runs and walks. This is far from a correlation though, as many bad players have a high TTO% and vice versa.

If we split it up into its parts, we might get a better view. League average TTO% has risen over the last decade, from 27.3% in 2005 to 30.3% this year (with a high of 30.5% in 2012).

We know the overall percentage has risen, but what’s driving it? If you’ve been following baseball, you know that the quality of pitchers has improved in recent years. Predictably, this has led to a decrease in walk rate and home run rate.

 

If 2/3 of the TTO% has decreased, but TTO% has still increased, that must mean the change in the third category must be drastic. This happens to be exactly the case. While BB% and HR% have fallen approximately a combined 1% over the past 10 years, league wide K% has risen by 4%.

What this means is that nowadays, if you are a TTO player, it’s likely much of that is coming from your strikeouts. In fact, out of the top-25 TTO% players with at least 200 PAs, only Paul Goldschmidt has a K% under 20%. Does this make high TTO% players bad? As I said before, there really isn’t a correlation, You’ll see players like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout with a high TTO%, while Buster Posey has one of the lowest because of his low K%.

The reality is, there are many different kinds of players. Some have adopted this TTO mentality, but others have stayed with a more conservative contact-focused approach. Without further information, it’s difficult to say which strategy is better. As a fan of statistics, I prefer the TTO players because it’s much easier to predict their performance. I don’t think they care much about that though.

Also, if you were curious, here’s a list of the top TTO% players with 200 PAs, created using FanGraphs data through August 13.



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Rey
Guest
Rey

Great research! But I was wondering if some of the outcomes are affected by the game’s current situation? Like a high TTO% player is more likely to take a walk or make contact (instead of swinging for the fence, risking the strikeout) when he knows his team needs someone to get on base for that particular inning.

Mark Davidson
Member
Member

Bryce Harper’s name really jumps off that list since he’s in the top ten and his K rate is by far the lowest of the top ten. His BB rate is 16.6% higher than the second closest walk rate (Pederson) and his K rate is 24.1% less than Springer’s second best top ten mark. Scary.

fenkerbb
Member
fenkerbb

As an Astros fan, I’m not surprised to see three Astros near the top of this list. It would be interesting to see TTO% broken down by team.

Also, you’ve got me thinking and it would be equally interesting to see TT0% for pitchers/team pitching.