Baumann: Three true outcomes have pushed baseball to its efficient extreme

From SABR member Michael Baumann at The Ringer on August 3, 2017:

Baseball has never looked quite like it does now, for better and for worse. Defenders are getting involved in play less than ever and stolen bases are at a 45-year low, but on the other hand, the game is populated by beastlike men capable of spectacular feats of power. And the sport is only moving further toward that extreme. Barring some strategic correction or a rule change, the water will boil soon, if it isn’t boiling already. But since it happened so gradually, it still feels like it’s the same temperature.

The phrase “three true outcomes” was coined in 2000 by then–Baseball Prospectus writer (now Ringer contributor) Rany Jazayerli. “Together, the Three True Outcomes distill the game to its essence,” he wrote, “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.”

The turn of the century was the heyday of defense-independent pitching (DIPS) theory, the brainchild of an early sabermetrician named Voros McCracken. In one of the first great research breakthroughs of the public baseball research movement, McCracken found that pitchers can truly control only three things: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. If the batter made contact and the ball came down in front of the fence, what happened to it depended on numerous other factors ranging from the skill and positioning of the defenders to the length of the grass and coarseness of the infield clay. You could learn a great deal about a pitcher by removing those other, more difficult-to-quantify factors and distilling his numbers to the three true outcomes.

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Originally published: August 3, 2017. Last Updated: August 3, 2017.