Go Figure: 'Three True Outcomes' take center stage
How very "2020 Baseball" of the Houston Astros, belting the first and final pitches for home runs in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series Thursday.
Former World Series MVP George Springer went yard in the first inning to put Houston up 1-0 on Tampa Bay. Eight innings and 126 pitches later, Carlos Correa literally walked off the game as he stroll-gazed at his 416-foot shot over the center field fence.
And here is a data point that rivals those bookend bombs in the Quintessential 2020 Department: All three Tampa runs were from solo homers.
It was yet another demonstration of "The Three True Outcomes" (walks, strikeouts and home runs) in full, rising force. In 2000 and 2010, to take two sample years, 29 percent of Major League Baseball plate appearances resulted in those three outcomes; during this year's 60-game season, that figure was 36 percent.
A casual appraisal may suggest this is only a 7% uptick, but it's actually a 7 percentage-point hike (and happened roughly 25% more often this year than a decade and two decades ago).
Consider the aforementioned Astros-Rays contest: of the 71 plate appearances, there were a combined 29 "true outcomes" (16 strikeouts, eight bases on balls, and five home runs). That's a shade over 40% of the time.
Q1. Can you name the former White Sox slugger whose career TTO (Three True Outcomes) rate was 49.9%?
(Frank Thomas, Ron Kittle, Adam Dunn)
Heady company for Anderson
With only six regular season starts to his credit, Braves rookie pitcher Ian Anderson probably didn't imagine his name would be stacked alongside that of Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson when the postseason began.
Yet here he is: Anderson joins Mathewson in an elite group -- they are the only hurlers to begin their postseason career with three straight starts of at least four scoreless innings. This reflects Anderson's talent for getting out of jams, the Braves' penchant for pulling him when he hits a certain pitch count ... and statistical numbers-crunchers' enormous capacity to impose awkward parameters on these rather contrived categories.
Make no doubt, the 22-year-old is a hot commodity. His ERA during his six regular season starts was 1.95, and in the postseason batters are managing a minuscule .113 average. But going midway into three postseason games -- Anderson has averaged 5 innings per outing -- is a far cry from Mathewson's herculean 1905 World Series effort.
In a six-day span, Mathewson tossed three shutouts to lead the Giants to a 4-1 Series win over the Philadelphia A's.
Over the rest of his career, Mathewson continued to pitch well in the Fall Classic, finishing with a 0.97 ERA over nearly 102 innings. Weak run support resulted in a 2-5 record during those Series in 1911, 1912 and 1913.
Q2. One of Mathewson's cousins was a Cincinnati Reds pitcher who appeared in three World Series in the 1970s. He gave up only one earned run in 25⅓ innings for a 0.36 ERA. Who was it?
(Fred Norman, Don Gullett, Jack Billingham)
In the National League Championship Series, the Braves have defied the odds.
At least those odds were something we could grasp. In contrast, ponder the reality Braves relief pitcher Mark Melancon not once, but twice caught a home run off the bat of teammate Ozzie Albies. Each time, Melancon was warming up in the bullpen to go into the game.
The astronomically unlikely sequence (on back-to-back nights) conjured memories of another Braves-Dodgers moment: The historic occasion of Hank Aaron's 715th home run in April 1974. The shot, breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record, was caught by Braves reliever Tom House, who gleefully delivered it to Aaron at home plate.
Q3. Can you name the Dodger left fielder who scaled the fence in a futile attempt to snag Aaron's historic homer?
(Jimmy Wynn, Bill Buckner, Joe Ferguson)
Answers: 1. Dunn; 2. Billingham; 3. Buckner
• Matt Baron supplements his baseball brainpower with Retrosheet.org for research.