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Toolshed: Assessing the three true outcomes

Homers, walks, strikeouts all trending higher in Minors than MLB
Lazaro Arementeros has homered, walked or struck out in 63.6 percent of his plate appearances this year. (Freek Bouw/Phrake Photography)
May 10, 2019

Three true outcomes -- no, these aren't theories about who will sit on the Iron Throne at the end of Game of Thrones. In baseball, the three true outcomes are the home run, walk and strikeout -- the potential results of a plate appearance that don't involve putting the ball in

Three true outcomes -- no, these aren't theories about who will sit on the Iron Throne at the end of Game of Thrones. 
In baseball, the three true outcomes are the home run, walk and strikeout -- the potential results of a plate appearance that don't involve putting the ball in play (and thus involve the defense). It's not breaking news to any Major League fan that this trio of stats is taking over the modern game. More players are homering, walking and striking out in combination than ever before. In 2015, players set a record with 30.5 percent of plate appearances ending in one of the three true outcomes. In the early days of 2019, that number is up to 35.6 percent (as of Wednesday's games). In fact, big league hitters have set record highs for three-true-outcome percentage in each of the past four seasons and are well on their way to setting another record this season:

Batters are prioritizing hitting the ball hard, and hitting the ball in the air. Sometimes the former means swinging hard in all counts, even with two strikes. But if the batter can still make consistently hard contact when he does manage to put the bat on the ball, then strikeouts become more palatable. And as Moneyball tightens its grip around the game, walks also become more and more of a priority, and pitchers are obliging at times by staying away from the strike zone in their attempts to stay away from hitters' hot spots. And around and around it goes.
Of course, any trend in the Major Leagues is typically reflected in the Minor Leagues, where all 30 organizations are trying to build future stars in The Show. Indeed, since Major Leaguers set the three-true-outcome record in 2015 -- a record that's been broken three times since -- Minor Leaguers have seen their own combined homer/walk/strikeout percentage climb more than seven points. In fact, Minor Leaguers are doing more of all three than their Major League counterparts so far this season for the first time since 2013. (Note: only full-season leagues were considered to keep the Minor League data consistent across all seasons, including 2019.)

A big reason is the increase in dingers at Triple-A, where both the International and Pacific Coast Leagues are using the same baseballs as the Majors for the first time. Triple-A batters are hitting home runs in 3.3 percent of their plate appearances this season. That may not sound like a lot, but it's up from 2.3 percent last season. In essence, IL and PCL batters are on track to hit 1,500 more home runs this season than they did in 2018. And that's just one level.
So the "Age of the Three True Outcomes" isn't just a Major League story. It's also a Minor League one. Viewing the game through that lens, let's check in with some of the game's top prospects. Below are some who fit in the higher and lower extremes of three-true-outcome percentages in the Minors, and some who sit near the average.

Higher extreme

A's OF Lazaro Armenteros, Class A Advanced Stockton: 129 plate appearances, seven homers, 22 walks, 53 strikeouts, 63.6 percent -- The A's signed Armenteros for $3 million because of his potential to show multiple solid tools, and those include his strike-zone discipline and power. His seven homers are tied for the most in the California League, while his 22 walks are tied for second. But Oakland's No. 4 prospect also tops the Class A Advanced circuit in K's, leading to a .236/.372/.472 line that's all over the place. His 63.6 percent three-true-outcomes rate is fourth-highest in the Minors; Miami prospect Sean Reynolds leads at 70.3 percent for Class A Clinton. (For reference, Adam Dunn -- a TTO legend -- had a career mark of 49.9 percent.)
D-backs SS Jazz Chisholm, Double-A Jackson: 117 PA, 9 HR, 17 BB, 44 K, 59.8% -- Arizona's top prospect broke out in terms of power with 25 homers at Class A and Class A Advanced last season and has had no trouble carrying that tool to Double-A. His strikeout rate remains high at 37.6%, but he's increased his walk rate from 7.8% to 14.5%. It's a big reason why he can have just a .184 average but still be a well-above-average Southern League hitter with a 140 wRC+.
Royals OF Seuly Matias, Class A Advanced Wilmington: 119 PA, 4 HR, 14 BB, 53 K, 59.7% -- Kansas City's No. 6 prospect jumped onto the scene last year as he chased the Joe Bauman Home Run Award before finishing with 31 homers in 94 games. The same pop hasn't been there in the Carolina League just yet. But he has pushed his walk rate up from 6.4 percent to 11.8 percent, while his strikeout rate remains high at 44.5 percent, second-highest at Class A Advanced. His spot here is interesting, but it'd be better if he made more contact to take advantage of his prodigious power.

Lower extreme

White Sox INF Nick Madrigal, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem: 117 PA, 0 HR, 10 BB, 4 K, 12% -- This is what the White Sox knew they were getting when they took Madrigal fourth overall out of Oregon State last year -- an elite contact rate, some walks, little power. There are 913 qualified Minor League hitters at this point in the season. Madrigal's 12 percent rate of three true outcomes is the lowest of all 913. No one has put the ball in play more.
Dodgers C Keibert Ruiz, Double-A Tulsa: 98 PA, 1 HR, 7 BB, 5 K, 13.3% -- Ruiz is back in the Texas League after being basically league-average as a 19-year-old there last season. Things haven't gotten much better offensively in the early going, but there is some hope here. The switch-hitting backstop is walking more than he's striking out and putting a lot of balls in play; those balls just aren't falling in. He has a .250 BABIP, leading to a .247 average. Showing a little more pop -- only three of his 22 hits have gone for extra bases -- would help across the board, even if it means taking some strikeouts to make it happen.
Marlins OF Víctor Víctor Mesa, Class A Advanced Jupiter: 109 PA, 0 HR, 5 BB, 13 K, 16.5% -- Mesa may end up being the cornerstone of Miami's rebuild, but the Cuban outfielder -- who signed for $5.25 million last October -- hasn't flown out of the gate offensively, living up to his reputation as a contact-heavy hitter with little power. If nothing else, this first month has served as a reminder that the 22-year-old will need some time to adjust stateside before he can be the quick climber some had hoped.

Exactly average

Braves OF Drew Waters, Double-A Mississippi: 133 PA, 3 HR, 7 BB, 38 K, 36.1% -- Waters is showing that it's capable to (1) strike out a lot (28.6 percent) but still be average when it comes to three true outcomes and (2) be effective even when striking out a ton. He's hitting .349 with a 170 wRC+ through 30 games, though a .482 BABIP certainly boosts things.The Braves' No. 7 prospect leads the Southern League with 14 doubles, so he's making a lot of hard contact -- not just many that are leading to homers just yet. As the 20-year-old grows into Double-A, expect that number to jump.
White Sox OF Luis Robert, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem/Double-A Birmingham: 114 PA, 8 HR, 8 BB, 25 K, 36% -- Robert is already considered a well-rounded player because of his power, run and defensive tools. But it turns out, the No. 4 White Sox prospect might also fit the perfect mold of the modern player. If he can keep these levels of production balanced going further up the White Sox chain, then it'll be another reason to buy stock in his future.
Braves OF Cristian Pache, Double-A Mississippi: 124 PA, 3 HR, 9 BB, 32 K, 35.5% -- In another time in baseball history, Pache's 25.8 percent strikeout rate would be worrisome. Instead, it's average for today's game, and that allows us to focus on the other breakout parts of his game, like his power. Pache's career high for homers is just nine, set last season, and with three already and a career-best .221 isolated slugging percentage, Atlanta's No. 3 prospect should threaten double digits for the first time. Add that with his Gold Glove-caliber defense next to Waters in the Mississippi outfield, and Pache could be on the verge of becoming one of the game's top-level prospects.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.