Three True Outcomes Up; Should Something Be Done?

CHICAGO, IL: Adam Dunn #32 of the Chicago White Sox throws his bat after striking out against the Toronto Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Everybody loves home runs and strikeouts, and walks aren't so terrible. But do so many of them make the game less interesting?

I'm sure you know about the Three True Outcomes: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Batter vs. Pitcher, no fielding necessary.

As's Joe Lemire writes, this season TTOs are at historic levels:

The 2012 season is in a dead heat with 2000 and 2009 for king of defensive inaction with each team having an average of 11.4 plate appearances per game that result in one of the TTOs.

What's remarkable about the 2012 season is the proportion of strikeouts, 7.28 per team per game, the highest the sport has ever seen. Home runs, which have declined considerably since their high-water mark in 2000, are still being hit at a rate of 0.98 per team per game, which ranks 18th in the 110 seasons of the World Series era. The walk rate (3.11) ranks 76th.

Between the two teams there is an average of 23 strikeouts, walks and homers per game, giving fans plenty of opportunities to make runs to the concession stands without missing a great defensive play (or any defensive play).


Just how many fewer balls in play are there? Since the mid-1950s the smallest rate of TTOs came in 1980 and '81 season, when there were about 17 per game, six fewer than the beginning of the 2012 season.

I hope it goes without saying that the difference between 17 and 23 is massive in this environment; that's a 35-percent increase in Three True Outcomes ... and, correspondingly, a 35-percent decrease in fielding plays.

Does anyone believe this is a good thing?

Perhaps. It's long been assumed that fans enjoy home runs. They probably do. They probably enjoy strikeouts, too. But walks, not so much. And I believe there's a limit to how much they enjoy homers and strikeouts. I have no idea if we've reached that limit, or are approaching it. But it seems manifest that the more things you see at a baseball game, the more entertained you will be.

You might question the wisdom of the men who invented the game, but the original idea was for the fielders to be involved in every play. The pitchers were essentially expected to serve the ball to the batter, and there wasn't any fence to hit the ball over. You pitch the ball, I'll hit the ball, and then we'll watch the fielders run around trying to get me out.

That sounds like a lot of fun, doesn't it?

Of course we all enjoy strikeouts, too. And home runs. It's all just a matter of degree. If this current trend is arrested, it's unlikely that anything will be done to ratchet back the Three True Outcomes. But if it continues -- and especially if attendance flags -- I suspect something will be done. You could deaden the baseball (ever so slightly), tighten the strike zone (ever so slightly) or lower the mound (ever so slightly). Or something else. Of course, whatever you do will lead to unintended consequences, which is why you can't do things capriciously.

But what makes baseball so interesting is the variety of things that might happen. For every strikeout you add, you subtract something from that wide variety. And I think we might wind up missing those somethings, if we're not careful.

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