Using the Three True Outcomes to Predict 2021 and More

Nothing in baseball ever comes easy. As the great (fictional) Jimmy Dugan once said, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” And Dugan was right. Baseball isn’t easy. However, that isn’t the topic of this report, although this article relates to it.

A new trend in baseball has been the shift to harder swings at the plate. That has been reflected in pure HR/team numbers, but has also shown in runs per game. In 1970, exactly 50 years ago, the average runs per game was approximately 4.32. In 2020, 50 years later, runs per game now sits at 4.65.

Table 1: A look at runs per game from 2010-2020

That has induced, in turn, a rise of what we baseball nerds call the “Three True Outcomes”. The Three True Outcomes (3TO) are home runs, walks, and strikeouts. As you can guess, a true outcome is when the batter does not put the ball into play. There have been certain players throughout MLB history that have been 3TO hitters, like Chris Davis and Adam Dunn, to name a couple.

The 3TO are caused by swinging harder, which creates more strikeouts. Strikeouts can be a mixed bag with automatic outs, but as you’ll see in a minute they cause a greater reward. Since strikeouts are automatic outs, and assuming that BABIP (AVG on balls in play) stays the same among all archetypes of players, a higher strikeout rate causes a lower batting average.

Now, as you likely know batting average does not mean anything. However, a low amount of hits can hurt a player’s OBA and OBP. (For the sake of this article, I’ll be looking at OBP) To get that OBP back up, a player needs to get on base in some other way. The most efficient way to do that is by getting a walk.

This creates the three true outcomes: home runs, strikeouts, and walks. To look at how these have grown in the past years, let’s look at another table:

Table 2: 3TO per team from 2010-2020

Now that we’ve established the 3TO, why it’s important, and it’s growth, it’s time to get into the main section of this article: examining the relationship between the 3TO through ratios.

In a pandemic shortened 2020, it’s important to get an idea of average stats for the average player (all players used in this are qualified to win the batting title, judged by having more than 3.1 PA/team’s game).

The average player had 9 HR this year in 225 PA and 198 AB, including 22 BB and 49 Ks. That’s good for about a 1 BB : 2.23 K ratio. For some players it was closer. Take DJ LeMahieu, for example, who won the MLB batting title with a .364 AVG. He had a 1 BB : 1.2 K ratio. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Evan White, the Mariners’ emergency 1B who made his MLB debut in 2020. He had a crazy 1 BB : 4.7 K. White didn’t have a great year to say the least.

Before we get into anymore ratios, let’s take a look at some trends in this data. To do that, let’s look at another table:

Table 3: A look at 3TO% sorted by OPS+

As you can see by this data, good players are scattered all along the 3TO range, although a high 3TO rate generally means high strikeouts, which again are automatic outs.

Now, back to our ratios. Let’s jump into some more complex ratios. Let’s take the average MLB player and see what outcomes they get on average for a home run.

As a reminder, the average MLB player hit 9 home runs with 22 walks and 49 strikeouts. That’s good for a 35.32% 3TO%. We can express the ratio as 9 HR:22 BB:49 K:225 PA. If we simplify to get one home run, we have 1 HR, 2.44 BB, and 5.44 K, all in 25 PA. That ratio is 1 HR: 2.44 BB: 5.44 K: 25 PA.

Instead of making up an example, let’s take a real season. To eliminate team based bias, player M had a season between 2010 and 2020 in which he had 359 PA, 87 K, 41 BB, and 31 HR. We can express this in ratio form of 31:41:87:359. That means an insane 44.3% 3TO rate, which wouldn’t sound that crazy, but for 31 HR? That’s insane.

We can simplify the ratio to be 1 HR: 1.3 BB: 2.8 K: 11.6 PA. The average ratio in the MLB this season was 1 HR: 2.12 BB: 4.65 K: 23.23 PA. Obviously, anyone with this great of a year would get national headlines, but he didn’t. The player is Mitch Garver. Do you recognize him? Probably not.

To continue with out ratios, we can divide 162/60 to get 2.7, which is our magic multiplier for stats to see what they would have turned out like in a real season.

The average player would have had 24 HR: 59 BB: 132 K: 608 PA. Let’s get the ratios for 1 HR. That ratio is the same as before: 1:2.44:5.44:25 PA. Let’s say that we wanted to build a season in 608 PA that had 30 HR. We would need to update the BB and K to follow the trend.

That new ratio would be 30 HR: 73.6 BB: 164.6 K. To check our answer, we can always re-simplify. Since the ratio was rounded, the answer is nearly identical.

What do all of these numbers mean through a baseball standpoint? It means concern. If the average player were to swing a bit harder and hit 30 HR, the average player would have 165 K. That may be concerning to some baseball fans, but in my opinion baseball is changing. And we need to adopt.

How can we use these numbers to predict the 2021 baseball season? To start let’s look at 2019 and 2020. Since 2019 had a spike in runs and 2020 dropped that a bit, I looked at the 3TO%. It had dipped. We can only assume that it will pick back up again, so for the purposes of this article let’s assume that it does.

The 2019 3TO ratio was 1 HR: 2.12 BB: 4.65 K: 23.23 PA. If that stays the same, then we can assume that the runs per game will stay the same as well, because the rise in 3TO has also caused a rise in runs over the past 5 years (this would require a whole separate article to prove this, so for our purposes assume that there was a direct correlation).

This means that the higher the 3TO%, the higher the runs scored. In 2019, there were roughly 2,183.13 3TO per team, and in 2020 (adjusted) that number was 2,158.38. In 2019, there were also 65494 instances total of the 3TO. There were 23467 runs scored. That creates approximately a 1 R: 2.8 3TO ratio.

Assume that we have a normal 2021 season. There’s a full spring training, normal routines, and just normal life for the players. This would mean that if the three true outcomes total increased to 67000 total, then using our ratio we would have 23939 runs. If this actually happens and there are more 3TO in 2021, then we can assume an offensive surge.

Now, for predicting player stats using the 3TO. This is much more difficult because 3TO doesn’t have that much correlation with any stat except for batting average. And even that has many exceptions. So I’ll have to stick to predicting 3TO stats.

If the ratio was 1:2.12:4.65:23.23, then we can plug in players assigning linear weights and predict their stats. Some linear weights could be wRC+, OPS+, and brWAR.

I don’t have the time (or energy for that matter) to predict the 2021 season and its’ 3TO stats. It could be a future project to store on the website, but at this point I doubt it.

Going back to our original quote: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Baseball is hard. There’s no denying that. But I hope that sabermetrics and analytics make baseball a better sport to watch through a higher level of competition, and make the sport of baseball great. For me, that’s analyzing the three true outcomes, using them to judge players, and eventually work my way up to bigger and better stats with more correlation.

Baseball never comes easy. Thanks for reading.

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