There is a group of players that are currently changing and remolding the face of baseball. Power hitters are in higher demand than ever before, and even veteran players are taking notice and adjusting their game to fit this mold. The group that is bringing about this change is being led by two young players who are quickly turning into stars beneath the summer lights.
Joey Gallo is starting to prove himself as a capable and valuable MLB player. The Rangers’ outfielder struggled to break into the Majors in 2015 and 2016, in large part due to analytics not taking over the game quite yet. In 2017, Gallo got his first chance to be a regular in the Rangers lineup, and now he’s proven his worth. Over his time in Arlington, Gallo has accumulated 5.3 bWAR, 88 HRs (including 40 and 41 in his two full seasons), and put together a solid .815 OPS.
Aaron Judge was a star from the start of his rookie season in 2017. In the first month, Judge clubbed 10 home runs en route to ending April with a 214 OPS+ and a 1.161 traditional OPS. Judge continued to make being a rookie look easy as he set an MLB record for most home runs by a rookie (52) in addition to drawing an AL-leading 127 walks and a season OPS+ of 171. Over Judge’s two full seasons (and part of 2016), he has accrued 83 home runs to go along with a .963 career OPS and a 153 OPS+.
Despite their impressive numbers and rising popularity, there remains a group of baseball fans who don’t give Gallo or Judge a lot of credit, and that is almost entirely due to the rate of their plate appearances that end in one of the notorious “Three True Outcomes.”
The Three True Outcomes (TTO) of baseball are what would happen if the game was played with only a pitcher, catcher, and batter: strikeouts, walks (and hit by pitches), and home-runs. Players who specialize in TTO were not welcomed in baseball for the vast majority of baseball history because they tend to carry extremely low batting averages (below .220 in most cases), which prior to the last few years was one of the primary ways to evaluate players.
However, evaluating a TTO player goes far beyond batting averages. These are players that make the most out of their few hits by racking up tons of extra bases (mostly homers and doubles). A proper indicator of this is in the ISO metric. ISO is a metric that indicates how many extra-base hits (XBH) a player gets per hit. It is calculated by subtracting a player’s batting average from their slugging percentage. A player with a higher ISO will hit a higher rate of XBH. The league average ISO in 2018 was .161. Gallo posted an ISO of .292 in 2018, while Judge answered with a .250 ISO. When Gallo and Judge get base hits, they get their money’s worth. Out of Gallo’s 103 hits in 2018, 65 (63.11%) of them were for extra bases. Judge took a double or more on 42.61% (49 of 115) of his hits.
All players in the MLB accumulated to average 8.48 strikeouts, 3.63 walks and HBP, and 1.15 HRs per game in 34.03 plate appearances, leaving a league average TTO% of 38.97%. The table below contains the five top TTO players in Major League History.
The greatest TTO hitters in baseball history barely topped 50%. Both Gallo and Judge are currently on pace to break Cust’s career record. However, both players did take notable steps backwards in their career TTO numbers this past year. Gallo “slowed down” to 56.15% in 2018, while Judge, in the 112 games he played, finished 52.01% of his plate appearances with one of the three true outcomes.
From a purely analytical perspective, there hasn’t been much evidence to show whether being a TTO hitter is good, bad, or doesn’t matter either way. From the list of players above, all of the retired players have a career OPS+ between 108 and 130 (on a scale of 100 being a league average hitter, 110 would be 10% better than average), meaning these players tend to be fairly good hitters, but not great. However, Judge has been dominant since his debut, posting an amazing 153 OPS+. Gallo, meanwhile, had to claw his way to a 108 career OPS+ (he held a very poor OPS+ after his partial seasons in 2015 and 2016). Due to the lack of analytical data to back up the case for TTO hitters, many teams refused to bring in players fitting that description for a long time.
That being said, the MLB seems to be encouraging the growth of the TTO player. One thing that all TTO specialists excell in is launch angle. Judge averages a launch angle of 14.7 degrees, and Gallo averages an absurd 21.7 degrees while league average is 10.9. TTO players strike out at exceptionally high rates due to their mentality of hitting the ball as high and as far as is humanly possible. As MLB analytics teams see a growing trend between launch angle and offensive production, more players will adapt by swinging more and more like a TTO hitter and trying to hit the ball in the air.
As mentioned earlier, the MLB had a league-wide TTO% of 38.97% in 2018. However, just 5 years ago, the league boasted just 31.12% of plate appearances ending in one of the three true outcomes. In 2009, the league wide percentage sat at 30.39%, and the league average was just 29.60% ten years prior, in 1999. The league seemed to have a slow and steady growth of TTO until the last few years, when the occurrence of the three true outcomes have become closer to commonplace in baseball.
Gallo and Judge are the prototypes of the type of player that is becoming more and more common in baseball. It’s not a coincidence that league-wide TTO% was at 33.25% in the year prior to the first full season Gallo and Judge played, which increased just one percent to 33.43% in 2017. After seeing players like Gallo and Judge play at very high levels, teams had a change of heart and encouraged more players to subscribe to the mentality of ending their plate appearances in one of the three true outcomes. In just one season, the league jumped an astounding 5.54% of all plate appearances ending in a TTO, more than any other season in Major League history. This is what the league is becoming: more and more plate appearances will end in a strikeout, a walk, or a home run.
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