Periodically, Baseball Prospectus pays homage to the “Three True Outcomes” and those players who excel at creating them. A long-time inside joke at rec.sport.baseball, discussion of the Three True Outcomes (or TTO) has appeared on the pages of BP for years. In short, the Three True Outcomes are plate appearances that end with events that do not involve the fielders: the home run, the walk, and the strikeout. Somewhat ironically, the TTO have gained prominence in recent years with Voros McCracken’s controversial (and oft-misstated) theory that pitchers do not differ significantly from each other on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play; thus making their primary differentiators of value the rates of strikeouts, walks, and home runs they allow. But the Three True Outcomes are, at their core, a celebration of hitters, epitomized by the patron saint of the TTO, and the prototype for early BP book covers, Rob Deer. With that in mind, we start with a list of the top hitters for 2003, according to the percentage of their plate appearances that ended with a True Outcome.
Kris Benson had a difficult end to his season in 2003, spending the last two months not only on the shelf, but answering hard questions about the injury–or, as the Pirates medical staff insinuated, lack thereof. Benson finally got back on the mound last week, pronouncing himself fit and pain-free. While the Pirates don’t expect to contend, their hopes lie in Benson asserting himself as the ace everyone expected him to be coming out of Clemson the better part of a decade ago. If Benson can prove himself healthy and effective–something he hasn’t been since returning from Tommy John surgery–he could be this year’s version of Sidney Ponson: a comeback candidate who’ll likely finish the season on a contender.
The Pirates are also hoping two acquisitions from last season–Jason Bay and Bobby Hill–will be ready to go for Spring Training. Both were unable to participate in a recent mini-camp. Bay is recovering from labrum surgery while Hill is still not cleared for baseball activity after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back.
Robb Nen comes back to his closer role this spring after missing the entire 2003 season. While he is throwing pain-free and from the mound, it’s still a long road back from labrum surgery. At this point, we’re simply left to guess–and pay close attention during Spring Training–if Nen in 2004 will be anything close to the Nen in 2002 who was so key to the Giants’ run to the Series. With a much thinner pen, the Giants need him.
Baseball’s adoption of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule has presented analysts with some new challenges. Quality-of-competition concerns have mostly been overstated, but they do exert a substantive influence over what happens on the field. Frankly, the way the schedule is arranged doesn’t make a whit of sense, considering teams from different divisions compete for a single Wild Card spot, but that’s the system we’ve been given. Much has already been done in terms of calibrating statistics to reflect the injustice of MLB’s scheduling policies, but one thing I’ve yet to see addressed is the quality of defenses lineups are facing around the league. That leads me to TAD. You might recall James Click’s piece on Team Adjusted Defense (TAD) from a few months ago. By dint of some mathematical acrobatics, James has added some sorely needed alterations to Bill James’ defensive efficiency metric. What we’re left with is a valuable snapshot of team defense. In any event, what I’m attempting to do this week is come up with strength-of-schedule rankings based on the quality of the defenses they’ve faced.