Baseball Reference defines ‘The Three True Outcomes’ (“TTOs”) as a walk, strikeout or home run. These events are given the TTO moniker because they are the only plays that do not involve the defensive team. They are pitcher verse batter, mano-A-mano. The prevalence of batters who excel in production of TTO events has increased in modern times, with more and more free-swinging hitters trading the yin of strikeouts for the yang of home runs.
One of those free-swinging axemen is Joey Gallo, the current hot corner caretaker for the Texas Rangers. Drafted as the 8th overall pick out of Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School in the 2012 MLB draft, Gallo’s calling card at the draft was his 80-score raw power. His 2013 professional debut in A ball confirmed this notion, with Gallo belting 38 home runs in 446 plate appearances for the Hickory Crawdads (man, don’t you just love minor league baseball team names?). Unfortunately, along with the home runs came a ghastly 165 strikeouts, good (bad?) for a 37.0% strikeout rate. Despite the strikeouts, Gallo still managed to post a 0.944 OPS and 163 wRC+ because home runs are sexy and Gallo managed to walk at a decent clip. But hot damn, a 37% strikeout rate.
The trend didn’t stop there! After a brief improvement to a still not good 26.0% strikeout rate in A+ in early 2014, Gallo posted a 39.5% rate in AA later that year. Fortunately, the power came along, with Gallo’s home run rates in A+ and AA at a robust 8.5% and 7.2% respectively. However, things really didn’t get crazy until 2015, when Gallo found another 39.5% strikeout rate in AAA and managed to whiff on 46.3% of his plate appearances in the majors.
Gallo started the 2016 season in AAA and it was much of the same, save for an increase in walk rate to an elite 15.7% level. His brief call-up to the Rangers resulted in 19 strikeouts across 30 MLB plate appearances. Amazingly, Gallo earned a strikeout, walk or home run in 25 of these plate appearances, good for an 83.3% TTO rate. His wRC+ was 1, which is 99% below the production that an average MLB hitter provided in 2016. Luckily for Gallo, the 2017 strikeout rate has improved a bit while his power has surged, resulting in a batting profile that plays as above average notwithstanding his 40.7% strikeout rate.
I think you get it by this point. Gallo strikes out a lot, hits a lot of home runs and also walks a lot. Across 276 MLB plate appearances, Gallo earns one of the Three True Outcomes 63.8% of the time. That’s obviously, how should I say…a lot. But where does it rank all-time?
I’ll spare you the wait: first, by a country mile. Gallo’s career 63.8% TTO rate is 5.6% absolute percentage points above second place Ed Whiting!
Whiting, who played for the Baltimore Orioles in 1882 followed by a stint with the Louisville Eclipse from 1883-84, had a nice mustache and struck out in 54.5% of plate appearances. Given that his TTO rate of 58.2% was almost entirely comprised of strikeouts, the natural assumption would be that Whiting sucked, however his wRC+ was above average at 106 (and better than Gallo’s to boot)! wRC+, or weighted-runs created plus, adjusts for the league run environment in a given year, so there must have been a lot of pitcher duels during the Chester A. Arthur years. In general, I find it amusing that we can make an apples to apples comparison of offensive production between Gallo and a player who played so long ago that no one knows who actually managed the team he was on.
Branch Rickey is third on the all-time TTO rate list. Rickey’s claim to fame came as the forward-thinking General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson to an MLB contract in 1947. Miguel Sano, the third baseman for the Minnesota Twins, wields a similar batting profile to Gallo and sits fifth on the list, while Astros journeyman first baseman Jon Singleton occupies the sixth slot.
Henry Myers, teammates with Ed Whiting with the Orioles in 1882, ranks 7th and posts an almost identical HR/BB/K profile as Whiting, yet somehow was only half as good with a 52 wRC+. Who knows, maybe we shouldn’t trust statistics culled from an era where player headshots were etched or painted rather than photographed. 8th placed player Tim Jordan, despite having a fairly modern sounding name, was teammates with old-school baseball names such as Nap Rucker for the Brooklyn Superbas (one of the sixteen or so former names of the Dodgers) from 1906 to 1910. Jordan would be 138 years old if alive today.
Keon Broxton, outfielder for Milwaukee Brewers, and Ryan Schimpf, second baseman for the San Diego Padres, man the 10th and 11th spot. Russell Branyan, who was really one of the modern frontiersmen for the ‘don’t swing a lot but when you do swing really hard’ approach, is 14th. Branyan had a difficult time carving out a consistent starting role for himself in the early 2000s and likely would have been more accepted in today’s game. Mike Olt, 16th on the list, initially struck me as a potential teammate of Whiting and Myers given his name, however he actually still plays baseball! Currently manning first base duties for the Portland Sea Dogs, AA affiliate for the Red Sox, Olt showed promise as a young player in the early 2010s before succumbing to depth perception issues due to concussions.
And last but not least (because who cares about Brandon Allen), a definite shoutout to Adam Dunn, who basically invented the modern version of the TTO hitter. Dunn took a lot of crap from old school baseball geriatrics who couldn’t handle 25%+ strikeout rates from a slow player who “clogged the bases” every time he worked a walk. But Dunn kicked ass to the tune of 462 career home runs, and essentially paved the way for players like Gallo and Sano. Now, just for some perspective, Dunn’s TTO rate of 49.9% is a full 13.9% absolute percentage points below Gallo’s current mark. So if Gallo can reign in his strikeout rate a bit (but not too much!), he has a chance to become the new king of the Three True Outcomes.
Interestingly, the profile of a TTO player has changed over the generations. Back when trains were just becoming a thing and baseball was in its infancy, being a TTO stud just meant striking out in over half ones plate appearances with little to no home run power. Now a days, being a TTO stud means walking over 10% of the time and garnering at least 5% home run rate to go along with a strikeout rate over 30%. How times change.