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March 10, 2011

The BP Wayback Machine

The Doctor is...Gone

by Rany Jazayerli

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.

Join Rany on a tour of the pantheon of TTO heroes well over a decade after his words originally ran as part of the "Doctoring the Numbers" series on August 15, 2000.

For this week’s article, I’d like to look at the amazing hot streak of Johnny Damon, who is hitting .477 since th-...hey, who let you guys in here? And what’s with the funny-looking helmets? Hey! Put me down! STOP THA...

Do not adjust your computer screen. We are in control now. Do not be alarmed. Do not panic.

But do not ignore us.

My identity is not important. What is important is that, if you ever want to see The Good Doctor again, you will listen to what we have to say.

We are members of the Rob Deer Fan Club. And we are here to tell you that the Revolution has begun. The Revolution that will spread the Gospel of the Three True Outcomes to every man, woman and child on Earth.

What are the Three True Outcomes, you ask? They are:

  • The Home Run, the weapon with which we fight the evil legions of Little Ball.
  • The Strikeout, a symbol of our refusal to compromise.
  • The Base on Balls, which brings balance to our cause.

Together, the Three True Outcomes distill the game to its essence, the battle of pitcher against hitter, free from the distractions of the defense, the distortion of foot speed or the corruption of managerial tactics like the bunt and his wicked brother, the hit-and-run.

(Some in our ranks claim that the hit-by-pitch meets the spirit of the Three True Outcomes and should be included in their ranks. The issue is to be decided at the Council of Oakland later this year.)

Still skeptical of our cause? Consider that the highest single-season Three True Outcome (TTO) average (defined as (HR+BB+K)/(AB+BB)) by a batting qualifier in history, 57.7%, belongs to Mark McGwire in his record-setting season of 1998. Feel our power.

If the Three True Outcomes are sacred, those who practice their art are our prophets, brave men who dare to lead mankind down a brave new path. The position players who have the highest career average of TTO (min: 1000 PA):

Name               Career     AB   HR     BB     K     TTO%

Dave Nicholson    1960-67   1419   61    219   573    52.1%
Melvin Nieves     1992-98   1228   63    136   483    50.0%
Rob Deer          1984-96   3881  230    575  1409    49.7%
Jim Thome         1991-     3077  196    646   882    46.3%
Bo Jackson        1986-94   2393  141    200   841    45.6%
Mark McGwire      1986-     5652  522   1185  1400    45.4%
Mickey Tettleton  1984-97   4698  245    949  1307    44.3%
Sam Horn          1987-95   1040   62    132   323    44.1%
Jay Buhner        1987-     4604  282    725  1299    43.3%
Gorman Thomas     1973-86   4677  268    697  1339    42.9%

Dave Nicholson may be forgotten today, but to members of the RDFC his name is still spoken in reverential tones. The first great leader of the TTO movement, Nicholson’s message fell on deaf ears in an era of Maury Wills and Walter Alston, but his efforts paved the way for the all-or-nothing sluggers of today.

After breaking in with the Orioles in 1960, striking out 55 times in 113 at-bats, he was tortured with a return to the minor leagues for all of 1961, but returned in 1962 unrepentant. Nicholson finally got a chance to start for the White Sox in 1963 and fanned 175 times in just 126 games. Prior to 1963, no player in history had struck out more than 142 times in a season; Nicholson brushed that aside by the fantastic margin of 33 whiffs. Even today, Nicholson’s season still ranks eighth on the all-time single season strikeout list. And every player in the Top 40 played in more games than Nicholson did that season. In fact, he still holds the all-time record with 1.39 Ks per game played.

(Yes, we know that the strike zone was expanded prior to the 1963 season, but every player that season had the same benefit. Only the greatest of men know how to seize such an opportunity to do something truly magnificent.)

While Nicholson’s efforts went for naught, his cause was taken up by a new generation of heroes. Men like Gorman Thomas, Gene Tenace (40.6% career TTO), Reggie Jackson (40.4%) and Mike Schmidt (39.9%) paved the way for the modern era. An era defined by no one better than Robert George Deer.

During his heyday, 1986-93, Rob Deer led the AL in strikeouts four times amd set the AL record with 186 Ks in one season, while averaging 27 home runs and 66 walks per year. In his most glorious season, 1991, Prophet Deer hit .179...and still managed a .252 Equivalent Average on the strength of 25 home runs and 89 walks.

After being banished from the majors for two seasons, Deer returned for one final farewell in 1996. In 50 at-bats, he struck out 30 times, hit four homers and drew 14 walks. His TTO% that season was an unfathomable 75.0%. The student had finally become the master: the record Deer had broken (minimum: 50 at-bats) had been set by Dave Nicholson in 1960.

But Deer’s career ended that season, and the RDFC has been looking for a new leader, another great man willing to take upon himself the mantle (not Mickey Mantle, another early practitioner) of the TTO. We turned to men like McGwire and Jim Thome, but despite their obvious talent for the TTO, they were reluctant to actively proselytize the cause. Like Schmidt before them, they had received too much media attention as superstars to be seen for what they really are--great leaders of the TTO movement.

But just as we were giving up hope that we could one day find someone worthy of succeeding Rob Deer, a great man has emerged to lead us once again. We have held out hope since 1996 that he could be The One; that year, he struck out 166 times, with 40 home runs and 62 walks, in 130 games for Columbus of the South Atlantic League. His prodigious TTO abilities were not affected as he moved up the ladder; he drew 80 walks, hit 39 homers and posted 150 strikeouts in 124 games in 1997. An injury felled him for much of 1998, but not before he had converted the entire Eastern League to his cause, hitting 16 homers, striking out 58 times and drawing 35 walks, all in just 43 games. His TTO% that season was an impressive 54.8%. He made his major-league debut that season, and he whetted our appetites when he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Last year, serious doubts emerged whether his strict adherence to TTO policy would make him nothing more than a martyr for our cause. Despite 30 home runs and 187 strikeouts for Triple-A Buffalo, and a 56.1% TTO percentage in a late-season callup, major-league excecutives got bent out of shape over some perceived "weaknesses", like his .208 batting average in Buffalo.

But just as the darkest hour is followed by the dawn, so has the deep despair of last season been followed by the true breakthrough for our hero, Russell Branyan. In his first extended opportunity to play in the major leagues, Branyan has answered the call. In 122 at-bats, Prophet Branyan has hit 13 homers, drawn 17 walks and struck out 55 times. His TTO% this season is 61.2%. The greatest single-season TTO percentages of all time (minimum: 100 at-bats) are:

Name               Year   AB   HR   BB   K     TTO%

Russ Branyan       2000  122   13   17  55    61.2%
Dave Nicholson     1960  113    5   20  55    60.2%
Tony Phillips      1996  104    7   11  51    60.0%
Mark McGwire       1998  509   70  162 155    57.8%
Billy Ashley       1996  110    9   21  44    56.5%
Dave Duncan        1967  101    5    4  50    56.2%
Dave Nicholson     1962  173    9   27  76    56.0%
Jack Clark         1987  419   35  136 139    55.9%
Dave Nicholson     1964  294   13   52 126    55.2%
Rob Deer           1985  162    8   23  71    55.1%

For his career, Branyan has a TTO% of 59.8% in 164 at-bats. No position player is even close; the next-highest career TTO (minimum: 150 at-bats) is 53.4% by Rob Nelson, who as all members of the RDFC know, was the man who started at first base for the Oakland Athletics on Opening Day 1987--ahead of Mark McGwire. Maybe the A’s had a reason to start Nelson after all.

Prophet Branyan has again been exiled to Triple-A Buffalo by an intolerant regime in Cleveland, which is why we have had to take such desperate measures. We will hold Dr. Jazayerli hostage until our demand is met: Russ Branyan must be allowed to practice his beliefs freely. He must be allowed to spread the Gospel of the Three True Outcomes to fans at major-league parks everywhere. He must be granted the privilege of rendering the opposing defense utterly irrelevant more than half the time. We will not rest until this is so.

We leave with a message for all loyal members of the RDFC: a great and glorious new era is upon us. Rejoice! A great man is here to lead us, and a new movement has been born.

The Russ Branyan Fan Club lives!

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rany's other articles. You can contact Rany by clicking here

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