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Three True Outcomes Throughout History

Taking a look at the Three True Outcomes Rate for teams throughout history.

Doug Pensinger

The Oakland Athletics have seen more than 200 more pitches than any other team in baseball through the first few weeks of the season and have the league’s highest walk rate at 10.8 percent.

The Houston Astros have struck out a ridiculous 27 percent of the time, leading the Majors by far and looking good enough to obliterate the MLB record.

The Boston Red Sox are second in each of these categories.

And the Atlanta Braves are going yard in five percent of all of their plate appearances (not five percent of their fly balls…five percent of ALL plate appearances). That would also be the highest rate ever by a sizable margin.

Yes, as has been espoused ad nausem, we know the Three True Outcomes are on the rise. In a serious way. But what has mostly been looked at is the player level, trying to find out if guys like Adam Dunn could be the rare 50% TTO player.

Today I want to have a look at whether these teams, performing at extremes in our current small sample, have any sort of claim to being the Three True Outcome-iest team of all time.

Walk Rate

I pulled data for all team seasons from the "Retrosheet Era" (1916 to the present). Below are the teams with the highest walk rates for an entire season.

Season Team BB%
1949 Red Sox 13.40%
1948 Red Sox 13.10%
1949 Athletics 12.90%
1947 Tigers 12.40%
1941 Browns 12.30%
1951 Red Sox 12.20%
1949 Tigers 12.20%
1949 Yankees 12.10%
2000 Mariners 12.00%
1999 Athletics 12.00%
1948 Athletics 12.00%
1947 Dodgers 12.00%
1938 Yankees 12.00%
1932 Yankees 12.00%

The late 1940s seemed to be walk-happy at the high end, as most of these leaders are from that era, save for the 1999 Athletics and 2000 Yankees. Was this an unusually large time frame for walks? I plotted all individual team seasons over time to have a look.
So it doesn’t appear that peak walk seasons have risen over time, which backs up what we know from that previously linked piece on TTO players throughout time.

Strikeout Rate

This will be a bit more interesting since we know strikeouts have climbed a great deal (thanks primarily to called strikes. First, here are your top team seasons.

Season Team K%
2013 Astros 27.00%
2010 Diamondbacks 24.70%
2013 Red Sox 23.30%
2013 Brewers 23.00%
2013 Indians 22.90%
2001 Brewers 22.80%
2013 Pirates 22.70%
2012 Astros 22.70%
2013 Cubs 22.60%
2012 Pirates 22.50%
2012 Athletics 22.40%
2013 Braves 22.20%
2010 Marlins 22.20%
2008 Marlins 22.10%

So, do you think teams are a bit more accepting of strikeouts now? This list is littered with current teams. Small sample caveats and all that, but that ish cray. The 2001 Brewers are the only team on the leaders prior to 2008. Let’s look at the same type of graph as we did for walks, plotting team seasons and league average.
Obviously we’re witnessing a massive rise in strikeouts over time. We’re also seeing the first extreme strikeout teams over the past decade or so. Note that the lowest strikeout teams in recent years would have been the most strikeout prone in the league until the 1950s.

Home Run Rate

Same exercise here, let’s have a look at team home run rate leaders.

Season Team HR%
2013 Braves 5.04%
2010 Blue Jays 4.23%
1997 Mariners 4.13%
2013 Yankees 4.13%
2005 Rangers 4.13%
1996 Orioles 3.96%
2013 Rockies 3.96%
2012 Yankees 3.93%
2004 White Sox 3.91%
1999 Mariners 3.87%
2000 Astros 3.87%
1961 Yankees 3.86%
2000 Blue Jays 3.86%
2001 Rangers 3.85%

We see a bit more of a spread here, with the 1961 Yankees joining a bunch of teams from 1997 onward. And Vernon Wells having a massive impact, as we all predicted he would. Let’s once again take a look at how individual team seasons look over time.
Again, we see a sharp rise over time, with the same bump in the 1960s that we saw with strikeouts. We also see that, while extreme home run seasons weren’t non-existent before, they’re certainly becoming more commonplace.

Now let’s look at all this junk together to see the movement of Three True Outcomes.

Three True Outcomes

I simply added K%, BB% and HR% here, since they’re all using the same denominator of plate appearances. Your most TTO-heavy teams of all time are…

Season Team BB% K% HR% TTO%
2010 Diamondbacks 9.50% 24.70% 2.91% 37.11%
2013 Red Sox 10.50% 23.30% 2.62% 36.42%
2013 Astros 6.90% 27.00% 2.50% 36.40%
2013 Braves 8.90% 22.20% 5.04% 36.14%
2013 Indians 9.20% 22.90% 3.27% 35.37%
1994 Tigers 11.40% 19.60% 3.52% 34.52%
2012 Athletics 8.90% 22.40% 3.15% 34.45%
2008 Marlins 8.70% 22.10% 3.35% 34.15%
2009 Rockies 10.60% 20.50% 3.04% 34.14%
2001 Brewers 7.90% 22.80% 3.40% 34.10%
2000 Cardinals 10.60% 19.70% 3.69% 33.99%
2012 Rays 9.40% 21.70% 2.87% 33.97%
2004 Reds 9.50% 21.30% 3.09% 33.89%
2010 Rays 10.70% 20.60% 2.55% 33.85%

Your 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks put the smallest portion of balls in play of any team ever, posting a 37.11% Three True Outcomes Rate. This year’s Red Sox, Astros, Braves and Indians are all close behind in our small sample, before we get to a spread of teams spanning the 2000s…and the 1994 Detroit Tigers, oddly enough. Let’s see how these rates look over time.

So we see a similar trend to strikeouts and home runs, which makes intuitive sense, especially since strikeouts are by far the highest percentage (and thus the largest proportion of TTOs). Like earlier, we see that teams with 30% TTO-rates are pretty new, save for the 1961 Angels.

What does this tell us?

Nothing that hasn’t already been discussed, really. We knew that TTOs were on the rise, especially strikeout rates, and now we can see graphically how individual team seasons have moved over time. We also know the bar that four lucky teams have to strive for if they want the TTO crown.

This is all just further reinforcement that baseball has fundamentally changed in how it’s played and how it’s evaluated.