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An Analysis of a Three True Outcome Hitter

Kyle Schwarber of the Philadelphia Phillies; CC by License 2.0

The wave of three true outcome hitters and the overall brand of baseball that comes with it has been astounding. There have been a lot of people who have been dogging this kind of baseball and questioning if it even works and if it is worth doing. It is important to understand what 3 true outcomes are and if a hitter employing this strategy can successfully do it and how they can successfully do it.

What are the 3 True Outcomes?

The three true outcomes are home runs, strikeouts, and walks and a 3 true outcome hitter is one who primarily does these three things. These hitters are trying to hit the ball out every chance they can get and this leads to more strikeouts but they are also taking more walks as well. There is a lot of criticism around this strategy for hitters as it is called bad baseball. It is called bad because it is typically really tough to watch these guys play due to a lot of bad strikeouts and not a lot of balls in play. Any Yankee fan can attest to this as they had to watch Gallo struggle badly while employing the three true outcome strategy. In this new era of baseball, we have been seeing a major increase in this type of strategy while hitting.

The graph above shows the percentage of plate appearances ending in an HR, K, or strikeout per year across the entire league. This is called 3 true outcome percentage and it has risen pretty consistently over the past 40 years. What has led to this increase? This increase has come from a change in philosophy across the game of baseball as a whole and in the increase of the sabermetrics as well. Home runs are at an all-time high which has led to more players going all out to hit home runs which has led to a major increase in strikeouts as well. The big disagreement with this philosophy is if it is working or not. The fact of the matter is that it depends on the hitter on if this is working or not. Some hitters have the raw power to just focus on hitting home runs but other players have no business doing this strategy. There are plenty of hitters who employ this all-or-nothing mentality with varying degrees of success. However, the reason there are so many more of these hitters in today's game going for this strategy is because they are allowed to. Typically these 3 true outcome guys have low BA, high SLUG, and high K numbers. In the past guys with these types of numbers were not given a lot of opportunity because of how much BA was valued, but now we are seeing more and more hitters who are selling all out for HRs and walks at the expense of strikeouts. There is a good balance for all this and this is what it looks like on a graph.

This graph shows how much a player must walk and hit HRs to combat the K%. This is a very rough estimate and not at all perfect but for every 1% of K% the player must have a .598% BB%+HR%. So if a player strikes out 20% of the time they must have a HR+BB% of 11.97%. These numbers come from just a rough estimate of what a player should be in order to be efficient with the K% they have. A player who is above the line is walking and hitting enough home runs to combat the strikeout rate they have. A player below the line is striking out too much compared to the walks and home runs. The big knock on these 3 true outcome guys is that they strike out too much to be effective players. This graph aims to show a way if a player is striking out too much or not compared to the walks and home runs. If a player is striking out a lot they better be walking and hitting a lot of home runs. Now that it has been established what it takes for three true outcome players to be effective; it is time to look at examples of 3 true outcome hitters throughout history and see if they were effective.

3 True Outcome Examples

Before looking at examples it is important to establish a baseline. For a hitter to be considered a true outcome hitter they must have a true outcome% of above 42.5%.

Rob Deer (1984-1996)

Rob Deer was one of the first players to ever be a legit 3 true outcome guy as he posted career totals of 31.2% K%, 12.7% BB%, and 5.1% HR%. This lands him at 49% of his career PA ending in a K, BB, or HR. This is one of the biggest totals in MLB history. However, for his career, he was slightly below the required line of efficiency on the graph above. For his career, he jumped back and forth over the efficiency line and he helped pave the way for the future of three true outcome hitters. Deer never made an all-star team or won any gold gloves but his impact for the future was very important. In a time when it was stressful to put the ball in play every time; Deer was able to pave a solid career path out of being a three-true outcome hitter.

Jim Thome (1991-2012)

Thome is easily the biggest name on this list as he was a slam dunk HOF with over 600 career HRs. However, love it or hate; he was a 3 true outcome guy. For his career, he had a 24.7% K%, 16.9% BB%, and 5.9% HR%. This lands him well above the efficiency line for his career and puts him at 47.5% for his career 3 true outcome%. Thome was one of the best hitters of the 2000s while still striking out at rates far above league average for his time. He is the perfect example of a guy who knew what type of hitter he had to be in order to be successful. He likely would not have been the same hitter if he tried to put the ball in play every time. Thome showed what could happen when a guy with HOF-type power sold all out for his power.

Mark Reynolds (2007-2019)

Reynolds was a very solid player for 12 years while playing for 8 teams in his career. He made his living on having a lot of power while striking out a lot. His career totals looked like: 30.9% K%, 11.3% BB%, and 4.8% HR%. This lands him with a career 47% career 3 true outcome%. This lands him below the efficiency line and his biggest issue was simply not enough walks and too many K’s. He had the elite power but he simply could not regulate his other numbers enough. Despite not being a successful 3 true outcome guy he was still a slightly above league average hitter for his career and was able to put together a solid career using this strategy.

Kyle Schwarber (2015-Present)

Schwarber is one of the biggest three true outcome guys around today and he has been doing it his whole career. His 2023 year has gone viral as he is hitting just .183 but still has a .759 OPS. For his career, he has a 28.4% K%, 13.6% BB%, and 6.1% HR%. This lands him at an insane 48.1% for his career total and this lands him above the efficiency line for his career. His 2023 season has him at 29.3% K%, 16.8% BB%, and 5.9% HR%. This has him at an absurd 52% of his PA ending in one of the three outcomes and has him well above the efficiency line. Despite him hitting just .183 he has been getting on base a fair amount with his walks and keeping his strikeouts under that 30% mark. Overall, Schwarber has been able to carve out a very impressive career using this strategy and he has been a very successful hitter this year as well.

Joey Gallo (2015- Present)

Gallo is without a doubt the most polarizing 3 true outcome hitter in the MLB today. He has an absurd 37.8% career K% and also a 14.8% BB% and 6.5% HR%. He has a wild 59.1% career 3 true outcome%. This leads him to be below the efficiency line and the main reason for this is the K% that is way too high to be efficient. His 2023 season has been ever lower as he has 43% K% while his BB% and HR% are similar to his average. Gallo has a K% that is just a plain and simple way too high to be an efficient hitter even in today's game. He has still been able to put together two all-star seasons though and overall has had a solid MLB career.

Three true outcome hitters are increasingly common in today's game and they are here to stay, love it or hate it. The complexity around them on if they work or not is a very difficult question to ask. However, the fact of the matter is that when it is done right and if a hitter is able to properly somewhat manage their strikeouts and walk a lot, then they can easily become a good and productive three true outcome hitter. It is important to know that not every hitter can achieve this and only a select few hitters with elite power and a great eye can put up the proper type of efficiency numbers to be a legit 3 true outcome hitter. These guys might not be the best guys to watch but they get the job done when done correctly.

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