Deleting the Adjectives: Adam LaRoche and the Three True Outcomes
Of Nationals regulars, excluding the mess at second base, could you name the one with the highest strikeout rate? The title may have given it away, but it's Adam LaRoche at 26.6%. This is up from his 21.3% rate in 2012 and a good bit ahead of second place Ian Desmond at 23%. What LaRoche does have going for him is that he is in second place among the same group in walk rate at 11.7%, behind only Bryce Harper and his 14% walk rate. As well as, second in home runs with 10, again behind Harper who has 12. So why is this important?
Well, for some who enjoy advanced statistics there's a well-known concept called the Three True Outcomes. As you may have guessed the Three True Outcomes are a strikeout, a walk and a home run. This is because these are the only outcomes of an at-bat that are completely within the control of just the pitcher and batter, anything else involves the defense in some way. Baseball Prospectus, who coined the term in an article in 2000 , described the Three True Outcomes as distilling the game of baseball down to its essence.
While not always, players who succeed in the Three True Outcomes will usually find themselves the possessor of a low batting average due to the strikeouts, but a healthy on-base percentage and excellent slugging percentage. For this reason these hitters tend to be underrated for the true value they bring to their team.
Success in the Three True Outcomes is often described in Three True Outcomes percentage or TTO% which is (Walks+Strikeouts+Home Runs)/Plate Appearances. There is some debate over the inclusion of intentional walks and hit by pitches in this formula. For the purposes of this column I chose to include intentional walks, since they are still in the end walks, but not to include HBPs, since they are not.
For reference, an example of an active hitter who excels in this fashion is former National Adam Dunn who had a TTO% of 56.83% in 2012, one of the all-time best TTO% in a season. For a historical comparison Mark McGwire had an identical percentage to Dunn in his record setting 1998 season.
Now Adam LaRoche's TTO% this season is not quite as high as Dunn and McGwire's, but it is still a relatively impressive 49.4%, just missing the 50% barrier. A week ago Fangraphs posted a leaderboard for TTO% this season and LaRoche's current percentage would have slotted him into fifth place, between Dunn and Justin Upton, which is nice company to keep. True to the description of a Three True Outcomes hitter LaRoche's on-base percentage (.335) is about 90 points higher than his batting average (.246). Additionally he has a great isolated power or ISO at .204, so he's an ideal Three True Outcomes hitter.
Now LaRoche's career Three True Outcomes percentage of 37.3% suggests that this is a new phenomenon for him. Still, it is an interesting career feat to accomplish, assuming he continues on this pace for the remainder of the season. While being a Three True Outcomes hitter doesn't really comment on a hitter's long term ability, it is a nifty thing to see. As I said earlier it is baseball in its purest, most basic form and it will be interesting to see if LaRoche keeps this up.
What it can tell us though, is that despite the high number of strikeouts, Adam LaRoche is still a good hitter and his wOBA .341 just further confirms this notion. While some managers and fans put a heavy emphasis on strikeouts, many players, including LaRoche, have proven that it is possible to be a successful hitter while still striking out at a high rate.