A three true outcome player in baseball is simple: a player whose plate appearances end up mostly being home runs, walks or strikeouts. Rob Deer and Mark McGwire were pretty well known for this. In McGwire’s final season in 2001, over 57% of his plate appearances featured one of those three results. This kind of player can often frustrate a lot of fans, but most still have a lot of value. Home runs provide the most production possible, walks provide valuable baserunners, and to many, strikeouts aren’t any worse than groundouts or flyouts. Ryan Howard, Jim Thome and Adam Dunn have had many years like this, and they’ve been some of the best sluggers of recent memory.
For some reason, I decided to put a minor league spin on this. There are no TTO% leaderboards, so this required some work myself. I didn’t calculate the percentage, which is (HR+BB+K)/(AB+BB) per Baseball Prospectus, for every player, so it’s possible that I missed someone doing it in a small sample size. To find players, I looked at top 10 league leaderboards in home runs, walks and strikeouts to find players who might have a high percentage, so if a player was traded or promoted and spent significant time at two different levels, it’s possible I missed them. All statistics are as of Thursday’s games. Yes, it’s taken me awhile to post this.
Seth Schwindenhammer, Lowell (Boston) 62.5%- If Seth reaches the majors, he’ll have the longest name in ML history. Unfortunately for him and the Red Sox, that really seems unlikely. In 2009, he signed for slot in the 5th round from an Illinois high school, and he was raw. He has raw power, but according to Baseball America’s scouting report at the time, he needed to correct some holes in his swing. He hit under .200 in his first two seasons, one in the GCL, one with Lowell, and this season, maybe the holes have gotten bigger since he’s striking out more. He’s striking out at an astronomical pace in nearly 50% of his plate appearances, and that’s why this season he leads the minors in TTO%. He’s walking at an okay rate, and he is hitting for power when he actually makes contact.
Paul Hoilman, Boise (Cubs) 60.87%- While Schwindenhammer’s TTO% is fueled almost entirely by strikeouts, but Hoilman is more balanced. Like Schwindenhammer, it’s not a surprise that he’s high on this leaderboard. Hoilman continued to crush Atlantic Sun Conference pitching at East Tennessee State despite the power sapping new bats in college. He also continued to strike out a lot and walk, and he was one of the NCAA leaders in K’s. He went to the Northwest League and continued to be a leader in those three categories. He has 10 home runs in just 42 games and also has 63 strikeouts and 30 walks. College first basemen drafted somewhat late don’t usually have major league careers, but Hoilman definitely has an interesting profile.
Justin Hilt, Yakima (Arizona) 58.7%- Hilt has split his season at two levels, Yakima in the Northwest League and Visalia in the Cal League. This percentage only counts his time with Yakima, where he’s been an extreme strikeout guy. He’s not really walking or hitting many home runs, but because he’s striking out such an overwhelming amount, like Schwindenhammer, he ends up at the top of the rankings. This is pretty similar to his college career at Elon where he didn’t hit for much power, struck out a lot and didn’t walk too much. He actually hit a little better at Visalia than he is in the Northwest League.
Juan Romero, AZL Indians 57.83%- Romero fits the mold of a couple other players on this list so far by striking out far too much. He has 45 strikeouts in just 94 plate appearances, almost two per game. This is his second season in the Arizona Summer League, but he’s still only 18 years old. An issue for Cleveland is that so far, his performance has tailed off significantly. His power is down a bit, and his patience has disappeared. If he can make more consistent contact, he’s probably a player worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Andrew Edge, Ogden (Los Angeles) 57.61%- Edge isn’t really similar to anyone on this list so far. He doesn’t strike out as much as Hilt or Schwindenhammer, but he doesn’t have the patience that Hoilman does. His power in the Pioneer League has been great so far with six home runs and a .667 SLG in 97 plate appearances. His 43 strikeouts are excessive, and with only six walks, his patience is non-existent. At Jacksonville State University, Edge struck out a little, but not this much. At 23 years old and in his second rookie league season, he’s probably not much of a prospect at all.
Justin Maxwell, Scranton (Yankees) 56.16%- Maxwell is a player I was surprised to see this high on the list. The statistics kind of back me up in that his TTO% this season is much higher than it has in other years in his career, but he still had three seasons over 40%, a solid amount. What has caused the increase in 2011? His HR rate has jumped through the roof for no apparent reason, and his strikeouts are also up a bit. Those two are more than enough to overcome a slightly decreased yet still very good walk rate. Maxwell probably has the potential to come off a major league bench regularly.
Wagner Mateo, AZL Diamondbacks 56.1%- Mateo was a pretty high profile signing from Latin America… by two teams. After a health issue scared the Cardinals away from a hefty bonus, he hit the market again, later to be signed by Arizona for a much smaller bonus. In 2010, he played for the Diamondbacks’ Dominican Summer team, and this year he’s making his stateside debut. The home runs aren’t really there, but the walks and strikeouts certainly are. He’s expected to have big power potential, so in future years he could move up this list.
Cody Johnson, Tampa (Yankees) 54.57%- As a former first round pick, Johnson is probably one of the more recognizable names on the list. He was a college hitter, and he’s as raw as top college hitters come. I didn’t follow the draft at the time, but I’m sure it was seen as a risky pick, and the way his career has played out has validated those concerns. In the offseason, the Yankees acquired him, and nothing has really changed. He has power, but the strikeouts are overwhelming, and his patience hasn’t been there this season.
One thing struck me when I gathered all of this information. It seemed like the lower levels had more players with higher percentages than the levels closer to the majors. I actually expected it to be the opposite. I thought that since a lot of younger players aren’t old or strong enough to have real power, their lower home run totals would prevent them from having higher percentages. It turned out to be the other way around. Their unrefined, aggressive approaches combined with pitchers who often times can’t throw strikes were a winning combination. Another potential factor is simply small sample sizes. Eventually, these short season players could start hitting singles or making other kinds of outs.