With Adam Dunn's retirement, you may have thought the "Three True Outcomes" era was on the wane. On the contrary, it is only just beginning.
There's a new type of player emerging: a grip-it-and-rip-it style that looks straight out of Cuba, but is combined with a post-grad degree from the Joey Votto School of Plate Discipline.
It first leaped out at me when I looked at the alarmingly high strikeout rate for Joc Pederson. I don't spend a lot of time analyzing Minor Leaguers, and I didn't know Pederson's hitting profile. What was strange was that Pederson was having a great first month, and was striking out a ton. What stood out was that he wasn't just some swing-for-the-fences hacker, he also walked a ton. His approach is best summarized by a reader on Bill James Online, in the "Hey Bill" section, where mere mortals communicate with the Leader. From user wwiyw, describing Pederson:
"... He seems to have a fabulous command of the strike zone combined with an almost comical desire to hit a home run in every at bat. I've never seen anyone quite like him, especially in a very athletic rookie."
Well put, especially the observation about him being both athletic and a rookie. This isn't Javier Baez, or even Jorge Soler, two young Cuban stars from another baseball culture. This is a mainstream US of A kid, straight out of Palo Alto.
And he's not an anomaly. His rise comes just after George Springer was promoted to the Astros, and just before Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo hit the bigs this season. Four uber-prospects, all with a similar approach. Let's mix in Steven Souza, and the New Best Hitter in Baseball, Bryce Harper. Souza is 26, but he's still a rookie and the MLB leader in strikeouts. Harper is in his fourth season in the bigs, but he is still just 22 and the new Walk King. Both are part of the new wave:
|BB% (MLB Rank)||K% (MLB Rank)|
|Harper||21.0 (1st)||21.4 (48th)|
|Pederson||15.8 (5th)||29.4 (7th)|
|Springer||15.7 (6th)||28.1 (9th)|
|Bryant||14.1 (13th)||30.7 (6th)|
|Souza||11.7 (24th)||36.6 (1st)|
|Gallo (Double-A, 2014)||16.4||33.6|
Gallo's numbers are from Double-A last year, but I threw them in to make it clear he's part of this school. Harper doubled his walk rate in a single season, while also cutting down his strikeout rate. He's not a perfect fit here, but the discipline plus power output makes him part of the new approach.
Three of the top six walk rates belong to players 25 and younger: Harper, Pederson and Springer. Drawing a walk, the skill that used to come with age and patience, is becoming a young man's game.
What we really have here is Three True Outcomes: The Next Generation.
2015 Three True Outcomes Leaders
Notice that not one of the top eight is in his 30s, and six of the eight are 26 and younger. Carter and Davis, part of the old wave (already!), are nowhere near as extreme as the young guns. Even with pitchers fearing their now-established power, their walk rates are nowhere near as high as Harper, Pederson, Springer and Bryant. It takes a special kind of discipline to have a walk rate of 15 percent and up. Which brings us to why this is happening.
Much has been written about the rise of the strikeout. It's an issue for both pitcher and batter. Fastball velocity has gone up, while the shame of striking out has gone away. Many of us are old enough to remember Jose Hernandez sitting out the final games of the season to avoid setting a new single-season strikeout record. This wasn't 1985, it was 2002. Thirteen years later, Hernandez's 188 strikeouts are 20th on the all-time list.
It's a strange confluence of incentives and motives. Analytics have something to do with it, pointing out that a strikeout is only somewhat worse than a groundout or flyout. Young power hitters have correctly surmised that productive outs might make sportswriters all misty, but a big cut brings greater rewards that are worth the risk.
These players are also coming up in an era of year-round baseball and evaluation of data. No one "walks off the island," but an elite American player playing for multiple teams builds a statistical portfolio that can be dissected and analyzed. He is rewarded for both his power and his discipline. Only two decades ago, "tools" ruled the scouting kingdom. Now, a high walk rate or low chase rate can be counted and noted. Perhaps, given that these young men were tykes when Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds ruled the earth, they were influenced by the wild success of the behemoth slugger with a hard-and-fast zone. Whatever the reason, the young athletic stars are emerging, and they're more Adam Dunn than Miguel Cabrera.
I'm not saying it's good for baseball -- the ball in play is going away. Eventually something may need to be adjusted. The natural and economic forces are forging the next level of Three True Outcomes, and we are only at the beginning.