Did Adam Dunn Ruin Baseball?

When you think of the three true outcomes, you think of Adam Dunn. (via Dirk Hansen)

When you think of the three true outcomes, you think of Adam Dunn. (via Dirk Hansen)

When they write the history of 21st century baseball after we’re all dead and gone, there’s a pretty decent chance that Adam Dunn will figure prominently. This is wonderfully ironic because Adam Dunn was never really a big moment, face of the game-type player. He made his first postseason this year, didn’t even register a plate appearance in the Oakland A’s Wild Card loss, and then promptly retired. For a moment, it looked like Dunn could have played a major role in a “Moneyball” championship and have been a figure of history for entirely noble reasons, but instead, he might go down as the great baseball villain of the post-steroid era.

Because Adam Dunn ruined baseball. At least that’s how the story will go.

As the steroid era was ending, baseball had a chance to get back to the basics. Instead of unnatural gladiators launching baseballs 550 feet, there was a real opportunity to return to the fundamentals of good base running, precise throws, and hitting behind the man who reached ahead of you. The purity of the game, the one of baseball’s many golden ages, was going to make a comeback.

And then Adam Dunn happened and turned baseball into a game of selfish and dull tete-a-tetes between batters and pitchers. He slugged home runs, stood there while pitches failed to find the strike zone, and swung through countless fastballs and devastating curves. Baseball had a chance to become a true game of skill, but instead Dunn made it cool to remove the defenders and the ball in play from the experience.

He embodied the three true outcomes. He ruined the game. Or at least that’s how the story will go.

*****

There’s no question that the percentage of plate appearances in which a batter puts the ball in play has been on the decline for many years. The general increase in home runs, walks, and strikeouts has been well-established and integrated into the sport, despite opposition from purists.

tto1

There are a lot of reasons for the rise of the three true outcomes. Steroids. Changing strike zones. Faster pitches. Better workout routines. Financial incentives. Sabermetrics.

The arc of baseball is bending toward walks, strikeouts and home runs with the defensive players having a smaller and smaller role almost every year. The quality of defense still matters, but the number of chances is on the decline.

*****

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that the rise of the three true outcomes has generated a great deal of controversy, likely due to a pair of sizable spikes in the TTO percentage over the past two decades. The game is always evolving and, like many evolutions, this one isn’t universally adored. A wide range of fans, analysts and former players have raised concerns about the direction the game is headed and it’s a conversation worth having.

The first question we need to consider is why the three true outcomes generate so much controversy. Two potential sets of reasons emerge.

The first is that the three true outcomes slow the game down. Perhaps it’s not a problem with the actual style of play, but just that it leads to more pitches and time between pitches, so it’s really an unintended consequence that has people worried. Baseball used to finish games much more quickly and now you feel good if a 7 p.m. game is done before 10:30 p.m. In fact, the average length of a major league game increased by about 30 minutes between 1980 and 2014.

There was a time when batters didn’t try to work deep into counts and they didn’t sell out for power and that meant fewer pitches and shorter games. So the objection to the three true outcomes is really a pace of play argument. And baseball has been receptive to this argument, with the Arizona Fall League experimenting with various rule changes that would speed up the action. If those are deemed successful, we may see them in major league parks in the not too distant future.

Card Corner Plus: Gene Michael and High Intelligence on 1972 Topps
Three smart players devoted their lives to baseball.

The alternative is that there is something about this style of play that harms the overall quality of the fan experience beyond the average time it takes to play a game. There’s a case to be made that the three true outcomes are undemocratic or fascist, as Crash Davis would say, in that they seem to be entirely about the batter and not very much about his team. Batters no longer hit behind the runner, move guys over, or take a cheap single because they are interested in doing what’s best for their stat line rather than what’s best for their team. In other words, the three true outcomes seem to limit the teamwork component of run scoring.

If you grew up following the game in the late 1970s or early 1980s, you likely have an image of what quality baseball should be, and it involves a much higher number of balls in play than we’ve seen in recent years. It’s hard to argue against the joy of home runs, but the increase in strikeouts has the appearance of a low quality of play. If hitters are striking out because they aren’t shortening their stroke with two strikes, it’s natural to wonder if they wouldn’t be better off making a “productive out” rather than doing nothing to advance the runners. This belief is only reinforced when players like Dexter Fowler are sent to the minors to cut down on their strikeouts.

In reality, there are likely elements of both explanations in play. The three true outcomes have likely contributed to the slower pace of the modern game and it’s difficult to watch a batter strike out with a man on third base and one out when a ball in play would likely have scored him. In those situations in 1980 a batter struck out 12 percent of the time, but in 2014 those batters struck out in 17.5 percent of their plate appearances. Granted, the overall strikeout rate increased by more, but the psychology of when strikeouts are acceptable has endured. You might be able to forgive a bases empty punchout, but in crucial situations, the strikeout rate is harder to miss.

*****

There’s no accounting for taste and if longer games with more strikeouts and walks make baseball less enjoyable for certain people, you can’t argue away their preferences. But it is worth considering the other side of the three true outcome debate. Players who gravitate toward the three true outcomes aren’t doing so out of purely selfish motivations; they’re doing so because teams have made that skill set a lucrative one. And they’ve made it a lucrative one because getting on base and hitting for power lead to run scoring and they will take strikeouts instead of routine outs on balls in play if it allows a player to reach base and hit for extra bases more often.

You could actually make the case that a three true outcome approach is a team-centered activity because the batter is helping the team more than if he simply slapped one to the second baseman every time he found himself in a two-strike count. The players responded to advances in the philosophy of what it takes to win and even though it might appear like they aren’t always team players, odds are their employers are happy to make the trade-off.

What it really comes down to is a question of what we want baseball to be. Should the game be about the ball in play or should the center of gravity be the strike zone? Count me among the proponents of the latter.

A great defensive play is exciting and fun to watch, but the real talent in baseball happens in the 60 feet, six inches between the rubber and the plate. If baseball were played only from the point of contact, it would be a significantly easier game to master; hitting a baseball is routinely named the most difficult single task in all of sports. Running and fielding at a major league level aren’t easy, but they are significantly easier than making good, solid contact with a projectile careening toward you. After all, we don’t play tee-ball as adults, because watching tee-ball would be pretty boring.

We could probably find hundreds of amateur athletes every year who teams could train into above average major league base runners. And defense, while harder, wouldn’t separate things the way fastball command and pitch recognition would.

What happens between the windup and the point of contact is where the majority of baseball skill happens, so that’s the place I’d prefer the action occur. Longer at-bats aren’t a problem because baseball, for my money, should be centered around the battle to control the strike zone.

The pitcher is attempting to get the batter to make an out and the batter is trying to reach base. The pitcher wants a strikeout most of all because there’s no risk of the batter reaching, and the batter wants the walk or home run because he doesn’t have to worry about a great defensive play.

Batters don’t run from making contact and putting the ball in play, but on the whole, they aren’t willing to shorten their swing and slap the ball to the opposite side just to avoid striking out. By maintaining a stronger swing and not adjusting their stance, batters have a higher chance of driving the ball on contact and that’s a worthwhile trade-off. It just makes sense.

But it’s more than that. It’s not just about the fact that balls in play aren’t as easy to control, it’s that if we watch sports to marvel at superhuman abilities, the batter-pitcher staredown is the part of baseball that’s most impressive.

The ability to make a pitch dance and land in just the right spot. The ability to recognize that pitch in less than one second and hit it squarely. Those are the talents at which you want to marvel. The strategy of pitch selection and the execution of that game plan against a hitter trying to anticipate and react to that plan in less than one second is where most of the baseball magic occurs.

This isn’t an easy thing for casual fans to appreciate.  When the batter makes contact, runners start moving, and the fielders spring into action it has the feeling of high drama and leaves what happened between the batter and pitcher before that as an uninteresting prelude. But it’s not. It’s the whole kit and caboodle.

Some people are outcome driven — the result is all that matters. But the process is just as instructive, if not more. It wasn’t the fact that a player doubled down the line, it was the way he fought off pitches and worked a favorable count to give himself the opportunity to strike the ball in just the right way.

The three true outcomes are a product of a game that has shifted focus to the strike zone rather than the diamond. The game is now about a battle between two men more than it’s ever been. Some might call it boring, but I know that many consider it to be far more exciting. There’s no accounting for taste, but while the new style of play is different, that doesn’t mean it will lead baseball down a path of decreasing popularity.

*****

Which brings us back to Adam Dunn. He played 2,001 games, came to the plate 8,328 times, and recorded a strikeout, walk, or home run in 4,158 of those PA. That’s a TTO rate of 49.9 percent (It’s 51 percent if you include the 86 times he was hit by a pitch, and I think we should), which ranks him fifth all time in TTO for batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, and first among those with at least 3,000.

Dunn is the embodiment of this style of play. He ran the bases decently in his early days, but as he aged he became one of the worst in the game. His defense was passable for a year or two and then became a crime against anyone who owns a glove. Dunn was a hitter. A DH long before he could DH and to top it all off, he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — hit for average.

Dunn was the exact opposite of the ideal player in most people’s minds. He was going to stand there while the pitcher walked him, he was going to swing through a pitch, or he was going to hit it 1,800 feet. There was no nuance or skill or pleasantries in Dunn’s brute force approach.

But that’s not really fair to Dunn. It’s not fair at all.

Certainly, his defense and base running were bad. We aren’t going to pretend otherwise, but this was a guy who worth 237.3 Batting Runs Above Average in his career. That’s just over 17 Batting Runs per 600 PA, which is an excellent mark. A player who could hit like that with average skills elsewhere would be a 3-4 WAR player. Dunn’s failings in the non-batting portion of the game kept him from being that useful, but he had some great years during his offensive prime.

Dunn’s three true outcome approach served him well and it was a big reason he was able to stay in baseball as long as he did. If he had been more aggressive, he’d have washed out long ago, or he’d at least have been looking for one-year deals until the end of time.

Dunn didn’t ruin baseball as much as he was just one of the most prominent examples that athletes with questionable body types could succeed if he knew how to command the zone. This made him a bellwether for sabermetrics.

No one is going to argue Dunn and his 23 career WAR are worthy of Cooperstown induction, but his role in the post-steroid era is pretty important. At the very least, he’s a symbol of what the game has become. People used to watch baseball for what happened in the field, but it’s becoming a game that people watch for what happens in the box.

*****

And some wonder if that’s a good thing. There are frequent debates about the importance of national TV ratings and the age of the average fan relative to the other major sports, and some of this shift could be the product of slower games with fewer balls in play.

Which calls to our attention an important point related to Dunn’s rise and the three true outcomes. What’s better, good baseball or exciting baseball? And are they the same thing?

The 2014 postseason is a great example of this. The AL Wild Card Game, the one Dunn observed from the bench, was widely considered one of the more exciting games of the year. The baseball world watched the last several innings with our hearts in our throats, but if you watched the game with perceptive eyes, the quality of play wasn’t very high. There were a high number of mistake pitches, poor plays, and managerial malpractice. This was true in several of the Division Series games that people enjoyed as well.

This isn’t an argument for the game to be less exciting, but just one that calls attention to the fact that exciting and good are not synonymous. I’d prefer to watch a well-played game over one that makes me gasp for air, but I understand that’s a matter of preference.

Adam Dunn didn’t do a lot of things well, but he controlled the strike zone. He didn’t expand the zone and when pitchers made a mistake he crushed it. That might not be the kind of thing that everyone can agree is exciting, but it also isn’t selfish or uninteresting.

Putting the ball in play is better than striking out, but by shortening your swing, you’re likely decreasing the odds of a good outcome. That’s why the strikeout isn’t toxic for batters anymore. The 2014 Royals lived with the magic of the ball in play, but there are other ways to live.

Dunn’s method is no better or worse than any others and it’s a particular approach that highlights what many consider the game’s most challenging task. The ball is traveling towards the hitter at 95 mph. Should you swing or should you take? If your default is to swing, the game will move faster and the fielders will play a bigger role. But I’m not so sure that’s baseball’s ideal arrangement.


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Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.
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Mike Gianella
Guest
What a great, thought provoking piece. However, it’s worth pointing out that while your premise is correct in terms of how Dunn and his ilk have changed the game, most of the reason games are longer is not because of more pitches or time between pitches. I analyzed a handful of games from the mid-80s to now and discovered that 62% of that extra time was due to more ad time while another 13% was due to more pitching changes between now and the mid 80s. The pace of the game is certainly slower, but the longer length of games… Read more »
Chris
Guest
Chris

Thanks for posting that about the ad time. I have re-watched recorded games from the 70s and 80s and have noticed the same thing. They used to have 2 or 3 commercials between half innings and now they have 6. If you have 17 interruptions per game (one between every half inning) and 3 extra commercials, that’s 25.5 extra minutes right there. And if you drop another 3 commercials (90 seconds) in for every pitching change and there are more pitching changes, well… there you go.

Bud S.
Guest
Bud S.

Quiet you. It’s the pitchers and hitters and managers and defense and all the rest of that unnecessary stuff.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

Great narrative, but the pendulum may already be swinging back. The AL representative in the World Series has both the lowest K and BB rates in the majors and by far the lowest number of HR’s. The Giants are not exactly a 3 true outcomes team either.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

Here are the rankings of the 10 playoff teams in the 3 true outcomes:

K’s: Nationals 10, Orioles 11, Giants 16, Angels 17, Dodgers 18, Pirates 19, Cardinals 26, Tigers 27, A’s 29, Royals 30.

BB’s: A’s 1, Pirates 6, Dodgers 7, Nationals 8, Angels 14, Cardinals 16, Tigers 20, Giants 21, Orioles 27, Royals 30.

HR’s: Orioles 1, Pirates 6, Angels 7, Tigers 8, Nationals 10, A’s 13, Dodgers 16, Giants 17, Cardinals 29, Royals 30.

Not exactly a ringing validation of a 3 true outcomes approach being the key to winning baseball.

Michael
Guest
Michael

Interesting. The strikeouts are represented in a misleading way though, as it’s better to be at the bottom there. Funny to see the A’s still playing their patented Moneyball, first in walks and second lowest in strikeouts.

How does the historical data look for this? Not that I don’t think one year is enough to prove your point, just wondering.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

Well, the Giants won the WS in 2010 and 2012 and they have never been a true outcomes team.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

It is not misleading because a TTO team has high Walks, K’s and HR’s. That is the whole point of TTO. You don’t put the ball in play! 3 True Outcomes!

ReuschelCakes
Guest
ReuschelCakes

this is, like, a lot of posts of some Giants guy arguing with himself?

like Facebook, there should be a “hide” option

Dr. H
Guest
Dr. H
Great piece, and the graph is fun to look at (I guess my idea of fun differs from others’, though) along different points in history– the decline in TTO around 1968 is especially interesting. Seems like baseball has been a slow, steady march up to this point throughout its history (not just the major leagues’). Starting with the old “trap” type games (like teeball), to pitchers being allowed to throw overhand, to curveballs being made legal. There must be a point where there’s an ideal range of balls in play, but that’s a very worthwhile discussion to have, and probably… Read more »
studes
Guest
studes

You know, the reasons for the increase in strikeouts is pretty understandable, as Neil says. Strikeouts are good for both pitchers and batters (as long as the batters are strong enough to hit home runs when they do make contact). At some point, there will come an equilibrium between strikeouts and everything else, an equilibrium at which more strikeouts won’t yield more power for batters, but it is decades away.

studes
Guest
studes
I’m someone who wants to see more balls in play. Making the game all about the batter/pitcher matchup takes away several of the joys of the game. One is being able to relate to the players. Everyone can relate to catching a ground ball–most everyone played catch with their Dad–but most of us can’t relate to hitting a 95 MPH pitch, let alone throwing one. Secondly there is the joy of beauty. True physical beauty occurs on the playing field when the ball is in play. There is a reason ESPN highlights great fielding plays but not great strikeouts. Beauty… Read more »
Awalnoha
Guest
Awalnoha
It is a thing of beauty to see a pitcher spot a fastball or backdoor slider right on the black for caled third strike or blow a fastball right by a hitter. It is also a thing of beauty to watch said batter take the pitcher deep. I also like watching a batter work the AB on 6-13 pitches and get a walk. That being said a strong single up the middle or double down the line or increbile play behind second or a diving catch is also a thing of beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.… Read more »
Chris
Guest
Chris
The chart of Three True Outcome Rate, to my eyes, doesn’t spike when Adam Dunn started playing. In fact, it doesn’t really to jump all that much, from around 28% to 30% during his career. What looks more profound are the changes in post-WW2 ball. You can kind of trace a fairly constant line between 1946 and 2012 with the exception of a dip during the 1970s, right after the pitching mound had gotten dropped. Then things get back on track in the late 80s, right around the dawn of the era of specialized relievers. I think I’m going to… Read more »
Arturo
Guest
Arturo

Interesting piece but to counter your argument. Who would you rather watch and enjoy; a team of 25 Adam Dunns or a team like the 2014 Royals?

NotNot
Guest
NotNot

It is scary, but we may have insight into what a team of 25 Adam Dunns would look like:

http://www.fangraphs.com/not/dangerous-experiment-a-roster-of-25-adam-dunns/

Arturo
Guest
Arturo

I remember reading that article haha, that’s the first thing that came to my mind!

steex
Guest
steex

Baseball is clearly supposed to be played by athletes akin to thoroughbred horses. There’s no room for a donkey in that race.

Gesge
Guest
Gesge

God, there could not be anything duller and uglier than 25 Adam Dunns. That’s just frightening.

Bill
Guest
Bill

You are an idiot. Adam Dunn would have made the Hall of Fame if he had played a couple more seasons, and shut dumb people like you up!

Josh Coleman
Guest

Great piece, Neil! 1st time reader, long time baseball fan. This would be a great debate with the fans.

Eric
Guest
Eric
I have to disagree with both perspectives and its NOT about preference, I simply don’t think you have to sacrifice power to play small ball and recognize the situation. The TTO have divided offensive players into TTP (two true players) camps. Those players that hit for power, swing hard in case the ball hits the bat, someone that bats .220 with 100+ strikeouts and doesn’t really walk or steal bases enough for my taste and their hit totals for the year are about 100 to 150, with no real batting eye to speak of (a la Mark Reynolds and Chris… Read more »
hopbitters
Guest
hopbitters

I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition for a lot of players. Adam Dunn wasn’t on the road to becoming George Sisler when he sold out for power. He took his skills and maximized the value of them. Nothing wrong with that. Now if you’ve got a kid who can hit to all fields and add some sacrifices and baserunning and they trade it all for a pile of Ks and HRs, sure I’d take Cabrera, but he’s a rare, rare bird.

joshua bayer
Guest

This was a very enjoyable piece. I don’t have anything to add to the discussion actually – just an appreciation for some cool writing!

Gesge
Guest
Gesge

“Should the game be about the ball in play or should the center of gravity be the strike zone? Count me among the proponents of the latter.”

You’re the worst, and folks like you, along with Dunn, are ruining baseball. You can have your games where everyone stands around for three and a half hours and watches 15 guys per side whiff. The rest of us, those who enjoy baseball as a team sport, will take the version of the game that includes running and throwing and catching.

Bill
Guest
Bill

With pitchers throwing 95 plus these days, strikeouts are going to be a lot higher! Is like to see your dumb ass try to hit the major league fastball of today. How runs and walks are key stats, and make for a lot of runs. A team of 25 adam Dunns would score a lot of runs!!!

Terry Netos
Guest
Terry Netos

I believe there are two key factors that is overlooked in this article: The return to smaller, more hitter friendly ballpark dimensions coupled with the near-extinction of AtroTurf. With shorter fences, less foul territory, and natural grass is there any wonder teams have returned to favor the long ball over the more deliberative approach of manufacturing runs? Let’s not underestimate the importance of stadium dimensions and playing surfaces. No less a strategic thinker than Earl Weaver observed this when he wrote that he’d have constructed his team differently had their home park been in Kansas City.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

Teams that play in smaller parks and adopt a TTO strategy may not have an advantage. Both WS teams, 3 of 4 CS teams, 7 of 8 DS teams and 9 of 10 total postseason teams all play in relatively pitcher-friendly parks. Really, the only postseason team playing in a hitter-friendly environment is Baltimore.

Terry Netos
Guest
Terry Netos

Sure, but pitcher- and hitter-friendly are relative terms because the ballparks are compared to parks of the same year/era. I think it’s safe to say that the ballparks of the last 15-20 years are more hitter friendly than those of 20-40 years ago; that is to say, if we put today’s hitters against today’s pitchers in a 1970s cookie-cutter, the hitters would wind up with fewer homers and extra base hits than they do in today’s parks.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

I don’t agree with that at all. We’ve always had Wrigley, Fenway and Yankee Stadium. Fulton Counter Stadium was a bandbox. Then there were the homerdomes in Minnesota and Seattle. Jack Murphy Stadium was much more hitter/homer friendly than Petco Park. Some of the toughest parks for hitters are some of the newest ones: AT&T, Citi Field, Petco, Comerica, Safeco. Some of the newer ones might have a short porch here and there, but they also have things like Triples Alley which suppress HR’s like crazy.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson

Hitting a moving ball with a round bat is not the single hardest thing to do in sports. Any good hitter would tell you that would be hitting a golf ball sitting still in the grass.

Randy
Guest
Randy
Ted Williams was a “good hitter” and he flatly rejected the idea that hitting a golf ball “sitting still in the grass” was harder than hitting a major league baseball. In “My Turn At Bat,” he wrote: “You never hear a boo in golf. You don’t have a pitcher throwing curves and sliders and knuckleballs, and if he doesn’t like you, maybe a fastball at your cap. There is nothing to hurt you in golf unless lightning strikes or somebody throws a club. And gee, there’s that golf ball, sitting right there for you to hit, and a flat-faced club… Read more »
Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, Adam Wainwright, et al
Guest
Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, Adam Wainwright, et al

“the increase in strikeouts has the appearance of a low quality of play”

Psh, Whatever.

Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver said...
Guest
Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver said...

Can you imagine the K numbers we would have put up if we had faced contemporary line-ups? Forget the DH. Baseball would have eliminated the pitcher altogether.

Big Daddy V
Guest
Big Daddy V

Nolan Ryan’s K numbers would be much lower. He never would have made it as a starter because he didn’t throw strikes.

A Eskpert
Guest
A Eskpert

He was also unhittable and indestructible.

Mack Garner
Guest
Mack Garner

Today’s game reminds me of the fifties, lots of sluggers and not many stolen bases. Not too interesting. My favorite teams to watch were the Go-Go Sox of 59, the Dodgers of the early sixties, and the Cards and Royals of the seventies and eighties. Bill James always said that he did not like Astroturf, but liked the game it produced. I agree. To each his own, but I like Brett and Gwynn more than Sosa and McGuire.

Morland
Guest
Morland
The issue is not the number of pitches in the game. It’s what goes on between the pitches. Batters stepping out after every pitch to adjust their batting gloves or some other nonsense. Pitchers constantly stepping off the rubber or just standing there holding the ball. Those things and the extra commercials are the reasons for the additional thirty minutes that games are taking. Baseball could address some of those issues by setting (and enforcing!) a time limit between pitches. Maybe you ‘d see a pitcher trying what Jim Kaat did in the 70’s. Kaat extended his career by going… Read more »
Johnny Ringo
Guest
Speaking of fascist tendencies, how about this article? Why attempt to “centrally manage” the game? It’s great having a guy like Dunn in the lineup, who can swat a 3 home homer against a pitcher, and win that ballgame when the rest of the offense is not producing. Whatever a player, or teams, motivation, I would just say, “let them play”. The article notes that these tendencies will fluctuate over time. Good. If the game is longer, so what? There are still plenty of diehard fans and I doubt anyone is going to stop being a diehard fan because a… Read more »
Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo

Is to say that Adam Dunn “commanded” or “controlled” the strike zone just a fancy way to say he walked alot? It seems ironic to say that a guy who struck out 193 times per year had control of the strike zone.

Eric
Guest
Eric
I couldn’t agree more. You don’t command the strike zone if you have 100 K’s and 100 BB’s, nor do you have a good batting eye. These definitions have gotten out of whack. At 100 of each you are net neutral, 100-100 = 0 last time I checked. It is only when you have a decent amount of more walks than strikeouts that you are commanding the hitting zone and have a batting eye as a hitter, say 75 walks, 50 strikeouts, or 110 walks to 70 strikeouts for example. Also, at a certain point, too many walks just aren’t… Read more »
hopbitters
Guest
hopbitters
I think you’re looking at the interaction in a very different way than Dunn did. He swung at pitches he can drive. Period. It didn’t matter to him where a pitch was relative to the established strike zone. It didn’t matter to him if it was a hittable pitch. All that mattered is if he thought he could drive it. Yes or no. Swing or no swing. And he was very good at making that distinction. Now your valuation of that decision may vary, but it’s not really accurate to argue his command in terms of balls and strikes when… Read more »
Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider
If you walk, though, you are not making an out. If you put the ball in play, there is a 70%(?) chance of making an out. If you walk, there is a 100% chance of not making an out. Every hitter is going to make some outs; in most cases, strikeout are just another way of making an out. Obviously, there are a significant number of cases where striking out is worse than making another kind of out but there is no reason that I can see to say a priori that a hitter has to have more walks than… Read more »
Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.

Bill James did a pair of simulations with a line-up of ridiculously inept hitters and Babe Ruth. In simulation #1 Babe Ruth was Babe Ruth in his prime: high average, lots of homers, lots of walks, relatively high K rate. In simulation #2 the manager was instructed to intentionally walk the Babe every time he got up. Simulation #2 outscored simulation #1 by a sizeable margin, turning the horrific cleanup hitter into a 150 RBI guy.

Hits are more valuable than walks but not making outs is very valuable.

Bill
Guest
Bill

Oh my word, you totally do not get all that walks do. They up the pitchers pitch count, and at the end of the long at bat, the pitcher still doesn’t even get an out! Walks will haunt, check the stats, Ton of batters that draw a walk end up crossing home plate. Give me a lineup of adam dunns and I’ll outscore you game after game after game….

Steve Millburg
Guest
Steve Millburg
This seems to me a very long-winded way of saying, “I enjoy the battle between pitcher and batter for control of the strike zone.” I’m sorry, but I think you could have made your point much better had you not swathed it in so many superfluous words and dubious assertions. For example, I’d never encountered any suggestion that Adam Dunn ruined baseball or “turned baseball into” anything or had much of an effect on the game at all—until you raised it as a straw man argument at the beginning of this piece. As you say, there’s no accounting for taste.… Read more »
John C
Guest
John C
Rob Deer is on line two, complaining that you gave Adam Dunn credit for what he pioneered. From a historical perspective, players like Deer and Dunn are just footnotes, noteworthy because they reached performance extremes that define just how poor a player can be at making contact and still survive in the major leagues as a productive player. Deer is really a better example, because he was a better defensive player than Dunn, and survived as a slightly less productive hitter as a result. The TTO model runs in trends. Baseball moved toward those extremes in the late 1940s and… Read more »
Eric
Guest
Eric

Ah yes, Rob Deer, but before there was Rob Deer, there was Pete Incagvilgia and David Kingman and Ron Kittle. Give credit where true credit is due.

David Scott
Guest
David Scott

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the whole point of penalizing a pitcher for throwing four balls and penalizing the batter for allowing three strikes to force them both to put the ball in play?

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider
Ultimately, baseball is entertainment and the abstract “quality” is besides the point. I might well find “Dumb and Dumber” a more entrertaining movie that, say “Citizen Kane.” I am willing to grant that working deeper counts, eschewing too much base stealing, etc., may well lead to better success in baseball. From the perspective of fans of a given team, that may be more important than whether the game is exciting because most fans find excitement in winning. But, from the standpoint of a general baseball fan, I find the Yankee-Red Sox games, as an example,-especially back in the day-unbearable to… Read more »
PackBob
Guest
PackBob

Hitting a round baseball with a round bat is extremely easy. Very little people with hardly any world experience can do it! What is difficult is the competition, that while one very talented athlete is trying to do something another very talented athlete is focused solely on trying to prevent that from happening.

TTO is for those willing to wait for instant gratification. It’s calling MacDonald’s a restaurant.

Aaron (UK)
Guest
Aaron (UK)

The arc of baseball is bending toward walks, strikeouts and home runs with the defensive players having a smaller and smaller role almost every year. The quality of defense still matters, but the number of chances is on the decline.

Isn’t this precisely because defense has gotten better? Why take your chances putting the ball in play?

Maybe the easiest fix (if you want to fix it) would be to shorten the basepaths very slightly. This would force infielders to play in a bit, make steals more attractive, increase triples etc. etc.

Scooter
Guest
Scooter
I like your insight, that one thing we’re arguing is where the focus of the game should be (pitcher/batter vs balls in play). I find that my answer to that question sometimes depends on whether I’m watching on TV or in person. On TV, I can see pitches break and twist in a way I just can’t pick up from the upper deck. Either way, I tend to vote more for balls in play, but that preference is weaker on the boob tube. (Or the few times a year I treat myself to a more expensive lower-bowl seat, or go… Read more »
Bill
Guest
Bill

Adam Dunn hit 38 to 40 homers a year again and again and again. Only Hank Aaron could pull that off for a long stretch of years like he did. And he walked a ton, so give him credit. Hall of fame had plenty of deserving players like Killebrew, homers and walks just like Dunn, who were horrible fielders and slow runners. If you completely dominate in two very important categories like homers and walks, the Hall of Fame awaits…

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