If you spend time following baseball media, you may have noticed the increase of articles bemoaning the rise of the “three true outcomes” (TTO) in baseball. We are speaking, of course, about walks, strikeouts and home runs. The term was coined to describe the idea that these results of a plate appearance are “supposedly the only events that do not involve the defensive team (other than the pitcher and the catcher)”, according to Baseball Reference.
During and following the so-called “Steroid Era,” TTOs have been on the rise in baseball, fueling publication of numerous “How to Fix Baseball” articles by people who think the outcomes in question are boring. I disagree with this assessment, since the most popular baseball highlights are home runs, and the popularity of the @PitchingNinja Twitter account would indicate that people enjoy watching batters looking silly while whiffing or being frozen frozen by nasty pitches.
In any event, it would appear that the most recent increase in TTO rates come on the waves of a youth movement. Younger hitters may be less worried about striking out if they were looking for something to mash. And if their strikeouts are balanced by working walks, they’re still very productive.
Former Reds and White Sox outfieder Adam Dunn ended up, perhaps inadvertently, giving his name to this style of hitting upon his retirement in 2014, when an SI article crowned him the “King of the Three True Outcomes.” Dunn finished with a career total TTO% of exactly 50 (HR% 5.6; SO% 28.6; BB% 15.8). The name “Adam Dunn Club” now used to refer to TTO specialists has a derisive connotation, however, because it conjures up the idea of a slugger lacking other tools. This is thanks to Dunn’s history of futility, playing in 2,001 straight regular-season games without a postseason appearance, and his paltry 17.4 career bWAR resulting from poor defense. But the name has stuck because it is easily recognizable and rolls off the tongue better than “TTO specialist.”
How is this relevant to Cubs fans? The Cubs have their very own Dunn Club member on the 25-man roster: Kyle Schwarber. In parts of four seasons with the Northsiders, Schwarber has a total TTO% of 48.4 (HR% 5.7; SO% 29.0; BB% 13.7). While Schwarber’s 2018 HR rate came down to 5.1% from a high of 6.2% in 2017, he raised his full-season BB rate to 15.3% in 2018, which is nearly twice the MLB average of 8.2% for the term of his career.
I don’t believe Schwarber’s strikeout rate can really be seen as that much of a detriment to his offensive production when he posted a .356 OBP in 2018 (top 50 in MLB), with an above-average WRC+ of 115.
So, how does Schwarber stack up with his active peers in the Dunn Club and its famous historical members? Let’s take a look at the numbers, courtesy of Baseball Reference. (Note: There are various criteria used for Dunn Club membership used by baseball writers and analysts. My criteria are above-average percentages for all three TTO categories. Therefore, Barry Bonds has not been included in this comparison because his SO% is below the MLB averages for the term of his career.)
Now let’s see how they stack up by total TTO%:
You will note that out of the players included in this analysis, Aaron Judge has dethroned Adam Dunn as the “King of the Three True Outcomes.”
Ranking by HR%:
Not surprisingly, home run king Mark McGwire had the highest career HR rate, followed by Judge and Hall of Fame inductee Thome. Schwarber ranks in the bottom three.
Ranking by SO%:
The three active players included in this analysis rank higher in SO% than the retired players. Schwarber’s rate is the lowest of the active players.
Ranking by BB%:
McGwire and Thome have the highest BB rates, followed by Judge and Dunn. Schwarber ranks above Davis.
From this limited analysis, we can see that, while Schwarber has better overall offensive output than Davis, he ranks below Judge, McGwire, and Thome. His strikeout rate is better than either Judge or Davis, but it’s hard to see Schwarber reducing his strikeouts in the same manner as teammate Kris Bryant
Therefore, he will probably remain a lifetime Dunn Club member. However, I believe he can be one of the better active members of that esteemed fraternal order if he can raise his HR rate closer to 6% and maintain a BB rate at or above the 15% that he achieved in 2018.
So being known for producing three true outcomes isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Schwarber, especially if he helps the Cubs to produce the one true outcome they desire.