A Three True Outcomes Kind of Night
I hate the concept of “Three True Outcomes.”
That’s one of the latest trends in baseball analysis. The idea is that only walks, strikeouts, and home runs are “true” measures of pitchers and hitters; all other results are “polluted” to some degree by the defense. The implication is that “hitting ‘em where they ain’t” and getting batters to hit lazy flies and routine grounders aren’t skills; it’s just a matter of luck. Tell that to Tony Gwynn.
That’s not to say that sometimes pitching lines can’t be deceiving. Take Troy Patton’s start for the Tides against Rochester May 22. On the surface, it looks pretty terrible:
4.1 13 8 8 0 0 0 Game Score: 5
(That’s innings pitched, hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks, strikeouts, and home runs. I had been assuming that everyone reading this would know that, but maybe not.)
Looking at that line in a box score, you might think that Patton was being hammered; that he was throwing lollipops up there and the Red Wings were knocking his pitches all over Harbor Park. But those of us at the game know differently:
· In the first inning, Matt Tolbert dropped a bunt down the third base line that stubbornly refused to go foul.
· In the third inning, Toby Gardenhire lined a double that landed fair, within a foot of the left-field foul line. He came around to score.
· Later in the third inning, Brian Dinkelman lined a double down the right-field line that also landed just fair. He, too, came around to score.
· Gardenhire led off the fifth inning with a single over the third-base bag; he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
· The next batter, Jason Repko, grounded a double just fair over the third-base bag. He came around to score on …
· A double by Matt Tolbert that stayed just fair down the left-field line. Tolbert scored on …
· A single by Dinkelman; a soft line drive that fell just between the shortstop and left fielder. Dinkelman later scored.
· The last hit Patton gave up, before being relieved, was another flare to left field, this one by Dustin Martin.
That’s eight of the hits off Patton that, with just a little bit of luck, (just a little bit of luck) could have gone foul or been caught. I’m sure the batters’ timing isn’t so perfect that they couldn’t have made contact a fraction of a fraction earlier, and driven the balls down the lines foul. And I’m sure that the their eyesight isn’t so perfect that they couldn’t have hit the ball a millimeter higher or lower, and the flares could have been easily caught.
Fans want to simplify baseball. Casual or beginning fans will look at Troy Patton’s line and think he’s terrible. The number-crunching fans will look at his line and see no walks, no strikeouts, and no home runs, and smugly conclude that he was a victim of bad defense or bad luck. As always, the truth is somewhere in between; although in this case the stats geeks would be closer to the truth.