My parents’ basement in Wisconsin still holds many treasures. Somewhere, amidst the family heirlooms and layers of dust, is a cherished childhood photo of my brother and me next to Rob Deer. It was taken on one of those glorious days at County Stadium when, prior to a game, the Brewers’ staff would rope off the field then allow kids accompanied by parents onto the warning track. On the other side of the rope sat the Brewers’ players in designated stations. Kids and their parents would flock to their favorite players and, one by one, step to the other side of the rope to have a shot snapped.
Now, as a kid, my favorite Brewer was Paul Molitor. He was the reason I played third base in little league. When I started swinging a bat, it was Molitor’s batting stance that I copied. He was the Brewer I most wanted to have my picture taken with. But that never happened. Inevitably, the moment fans were let onto the field, the stations for Paul Molitor and Robin Yount overflowed with eager kids. You could wait in the long line for Molitor or Yount and, maybe, get a picture taken with one of them before the staff began ushering people off the field. Or, you could skip the long lines for Yount and Molitor and target other beloved players. That’s how my brother and I ended up next to Rob Deer.
To be honest, I was also a huge fan of Rob Deer, much to my father’s dismay. All I remember about Deer are his monstrous home runs. And I’m guessing that my dad only remembers when Rob Deer set the American league record for most strikeouts in a season — 186 whiffs in 1987 — a record that stood until Jack Cust fanned 197 times for Oakland in 2008 . After hearing Rob Deer was hired as a hitting assistant for the Chicago Cubs, I revisited his career stats and kind of had my mind blown. Deer’s career batting average is .220. In each of the eight seasons he played 100 games or more, Rob Deer –
- Hit, at least, 20 home runs.
- Drew, at least, 50 walks.
- Never struck out less than 100 times. In fact, he only struck out less than 150 times twice.
As a youngster, little did I know, that when I watched Rob Deer play, I was watching the future of baseball. In the years since Deer retired, baseball has trended towards the stats he was famous for — home runs, strike outs, and walks. The term “Three True Outcomes” (3TO) is used to describe this trinity because none of the plays involve fielders and, instead, focus the game on its most basic battle – pitcher vs batter.
There are many reasons why the game is trending toward the Three True Outcomes. First, players are incentivized toward it. Pitchers that fan a ton of batters, and hitters that commonly crush long balls, are getting mega-contracts for those outcomes, think Justin Verlander and Albert Pujols. Billy Beane and sabermetrics have also helped by valuing players who draw a ton of walks. Then there’s the increased specialization of the bullpen. Now, more than ever, teams stack their bullpen with flamethrowers and left-handed specialists that make a living by striking people out. The game has evolved to where one of the Three True Outcomes happen in about 30% of all plate appearances. At the end of the 2012 season, James Gentile wrote a piece about FIP that included this handy chart on the rise of the Three True Outcomes over the decades –
Rob Deer has been a poster child for 3TO since its conception. Here’s how it breaks down -–
(Home Runs + Strike Outs + Walks) / Plate Appearances
For Rob Deer’s career, here are his 3TO numbers -–
Amazingly, in just under half of all of Rob Deer’s MLB plate appearances, he hit a home run, struck out, or walked. I bring this up because, after Sunday’s game, Ryan Braun’s 3TO% for the season is an eye-popping 58.33%. In 60 plate appearances, Braun has hit 5 home runs, drawn 10 walks, and struck out 20 times.
For a little context, here’s how Braun’s 3TO ranks amongst the league leaders –
For Brewers fans, this isn’t the Ryan Braun we’re used to seeing at the plate. Todd Rosiak profiled Braun’s weird stretch in the Journal Sentinel following Sunday’s victory and this, now notorious, bat flip. Whether this “stretch” is caused by lackluster protection in the line-up, lingering stiffness in his neck, or early season struggles seeing the ball, all indicators point to a course correction for Braun. For one, Ryan Braun has hit exactly one line drive all season -– ONE! That’s a league worst line drive percentage of 3.4%. That will change. Also, there’s the last six seasons worth of data on Braun’s performance. Unlike Rob Deer before him, or Adam Dunn currently, Ryan Braun’s career numbers don’t indicate that he’s a player who will flirt with a 50.00% 3TO season.
As his career numbers indicate, typically, Braun’s 3TO hovers closer 30% than 50%. In fact, over the first six years of Braun’s career, his exact 3TO is 31.01%. As the graph above indicates, having a plate appearance end in one of the Three True Outcomes 31.01% of the time makes Braun league-average. It’s what Braun does in those other 68.99% of plate appearances that have made him an elite player.
Ryan Braun is too good of a hitter for this current trend to continue. He’ll start squaring up more balls and hitting line drives soon enough. Until then, whether Braun hits a home run, strikes out, or walks doesn’t really matter. The only outcome that truly matters is whether the Brewers are winning. And, right now, Braun sure is helping them do that.