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Have You Heard of the “Three True Outcomes”...and What Do You Think of Them?

Have You Heard of the “Three True Outcomes”...and What Do You Think of Them?

There’s a term that’s been swirling around baseball for more than a few decades that even many true baseball fans haven’t heard of, don’t know what it means and aren’t sure what to make of it once they hear it.

The term is “three true outcomes.” Its origins are a bit unclear, but the definition is pretty straightforward: It refers to an at-bat that results in 1) a home run, 2) a walk or 3) a strikeout.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Wait...it gets weirder.

First, let’s talk about a true TTO-flavored moment that every baseball fan heard about last year.

WBC, Ohtani vs. Trout. A matchup for all time.

Many fans followed the World Baseball Classic last year and were excited to see Team USA facing Japan in the final game for the title. And the game went down to the wire.

The score in the 9th inning was Japan 3, USA 2. There were two outs, Shohei Ohtani was pitching for Japan and Mike Trout (ironically, Ohtani’s MLB teammate) was at the plate.

The count went to 3-2 before Trout went down swinging on an Ohtani slider. Game over. Exciting moment. History made. If you want to relive that exciting moment, you can see it here on YouTube.

You can look back a year later and see that at-bat as the definition of a TTO moment, which indeed it was.

In fact, it may have been the best illustration of the concept ever...even though we didn’t know it at the time. Here’s why.

A showdown everyone wanted to see.

In that last at-bat in the title game, everyone wanted and hoped to see Trout take Ohtani deep over the fence and tie the game. What a moment that would have been, right? We can only imagine the mayhem that would have followed.

A home run by Trout—if he could’ve hit one off Japan’s ace—would have been the best of the true outcomes and the most exciting one.

So of course, Trout was swinging from his heels and swinging for the fences—he wasn’t looking to simply put the ball in play or slip one through the infield. He was thinking home run all the way. Home run or bust.

Unfortunately, Ohtani had his number that day and Trout went down swinging, not looking. He gave it his all.

As it turned out, the strikeout was just as exciting for all fans. Power vs. power. Ohtani was hitting the radar gun at 100 mph on his fastballs to Trout. The strikeout is what Ohtani wanted, his own best possible outcome.

By the way, it’s those 100-mph fastballs that gave rise to the TTO philosophy and hitting strategy. In other words, more firepower on the mound demands more power from the bat…at least that’s the thinking.

What about the third outcome?

Mike Trout on World Baseball Classic Finals

Ball four. What if...

What if Ohtani’s 3-2 slider had missed the plate and Trout’s at-bat ended in a walk? In terms of the TTO, that’s a great result. The batter is on base. Not a home run, but better than an out.

So let’s imagine that Trout, a genuine home-run threat, had spooked Ohtani into giving up a walk. The outcome would go to the batter. Not as exciting as a game-tying home run, but the game would have continued, giving Team USA a breath of life.

Yet, that’s not how it turned out.

Mano a mano. Pitcher vs. batter.

One of the first people to write about the three true outcomes (a baseball fan and contributor to a baseball website) said this about TTO in the year 2000:

“Distills 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.”

While that might seem poetic, dramatic and even prescient (as if predicting the Ohtani vs. Trout showdown for all the world to see), it’s likely he couldn’t have known that the “three true outcomes” approach or strategy would infiltrate baseball over time.

It also probably seems strange, wrong and even “anti-baseball” to true baseball fans.

In other words, in the TTO world, singles, doubles, triples, double plays, diving catches and more don’t matter. Okay, that’s not what TTO is about, but it can almost seem that way.

And we all know that the game has changed over the past 10–15 years. If you’ve followed baseball statistics—or just followed the game—you’ve surely noticed that since 2000, the number of home runs has tended to increase over the years, along with the number of strikeouts. And until last season, we had defensive shifts, which stunted offense overall.

So with pitchers throwing faster, relievers galore and the shift, some players changed their approach.

There are players who learned to (and focused on) hitting more home runs than before by changing their swing, their approach at the plate and, consciously or not, adapting the three-true-outcomes strategy at the plate.

King of the three true outcomes.

You might be surprised to learn which players are viewed as being in the TTO category. Hall of Famer Jim Thome is one of them, along with Mark McGuire, home-run monster. King of the TTO Hitters is said to Adam Dunn, who retired 10 years ago.

Dunn struck out, hit a home run or walked in nearly 50% of his plate appearances.

He led the League in strikeouts in four seasons and in walks in two seasons. He had plenty of both during most of his career. In 2012 with the Chicago White Sox, he led the League in both categories, logging 222 Ks and 105 base on balls. He also hit 41 home runs that same season, just three behind the MLB leader.

But he never made it to the postseason, and it’s likely most fans don’t even know who he was.

The Dodgers’ Max Muncy: A modern TTO player.

So far into the 2024 season, Max Muncy has nine home runs, 19 walks and 40 strikeouts. His average is around .260...which is somewhat high for him. In early May, he had a three-home-run game and a grand slam a few days later. Both contributed to L.A. victories, which accounted for the best record in baseball on May 7th. In his six seasons with the Dodgers, they’ve made the playoffs each year, winning the World Series once.

He’s had two seasons where he batted under .200, and he hit .212 last season...while knocking in 36 home runs.

By contrast and comparison, his teammate Mookie Betts has walked 29 times (most in the Majors), struck out only 19 times, has six dingers...and is batting close to .350. Old-school player, the kind baseball fans love.

Another Dodger teammate, Teoscar Hernández, is right there with Muncy in terms of TTO, with 14 walks, 49 whiffs and nine round-trippers, with a batting average of .265.

Muncy and Hernández are both contributing to Dodger victories and creating some memorable highlights for Dodger fans. Hernández is contributing more than the other platooned outfielders on the team.

Of course, it also helps that the Dodgers have Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and their new acquisition, Shohei Ohtani, in their starting lineup.

That helps cover up a lot of strikeouts.




Resources: thedrummeyangle.com/post/an-analysis-of-a-three-true-outcome-hittermlb.com/glossary/idioms/three-true-outcomessi.com/mlb/adam-dunn-retires;

sabr.org/journal/article/the-growth-of-three-true-outcomes