Rick Ankiel's One True Outcome: strikeouts, and lots of them
Home runs, walks and strikeouts are known as baseball's "Three True Outcomes" because they don't involve the vagaries of fielding. After going 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts on Thursday night, the Astros' Rick Ankiel has done one of those three things in 34 of his 45 plate appearances on the season, or 76 percent.
To put that in perspective, the highest single season Three True Outcome percentage by a qualified batter was Jack Cust's 58 percent in 2007, when he hit 26 home runs, drew 105 walks and led the American League with 164 strikeouts in 507 plate appearances. The Three True Outcomes are a bit of a pet statistic for sabermetric nerds like myself because players with a high TTO percentage are typically undervalued by traditional analysis. Cust, for instance, had his best year in 2007 because all of those walks and home runs helped him achieve a .408 on-base percentage and .504 slugging percentage, good for a 146 OPS+ and an overall offensive profile worth about four wins above replacement. Indeed, of Cust's 295 True Outcomes, 131, or 44 percent, were positive.
What Ankiel is doing this year is nothing like that. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe Ankiel as a One True Outcome player. Yes, he has five home runs, but he has just one walk. Rather 28 of his 34 True Outcomes, a whopping 82 percent, have been strikeouts. Having struck out in his only two official at-bats on Thursday night, Ankiel has now struck out 28 times in 45 plate appearances, or 62 percent of the time he steps into the batter's box. Not only would that be a record for strikeout percentage by a non-pitcher in a minimum of 45 plate appearances if the season (or Ankiel's involvement in it) ended today, it means that Ankiel is striking out more often that Cust accomplished any of the Three True Outcomes in the most extreme TTO season in major league history.
Here is a quick look at some of the non-pitcher strikeout percentage marks Ankiel finds himself chasing:
min. 45 PA:
62%: Ankiel, 2013
57%: Brian Bixler, 2009 (46 PA)
min. 50 PA:
49%: Carlos Peguero, 2012 (57 PA)
min. 100 PA:
47%: Dave Duncan, 1967 (106 PA)
min. 150 PA:
39.3%: Trayvon Robinson, 2011 (155 PA)
min. 200 PA:
38.8%: Melvin Nieves, 1997 (405 PA)
min. 425 PA:
36.4%: Bo Jackson, 1987 (434 PA)
min. 450 PA:
35.7%: Adam Dunn, 201 (496 PA)
Qualified for batting title (min. 502 PA):
35.4%: Mark Reynolds, 2010 (596 PA)
To put that last figure in perspective, Ankiel would have to come to the plate 34 times in a row without striking out to get his strikeout percentage down to the 35.4 percent rate that Reynolds had in 2010 when he struck out 211 times.
As a platoon rightfielder (who, it should be noted, has struck out in all five of his plate appearances against his fellow lefties this year) and pinch-hitter, Ankiel is on pace to come to the plate only 331 times this season , so Jackson, Dunn and Reynolds will hold on to their respective strikeout percentage records. The big question now facing the Astros is if they need to protect the others, and themselves, from Ankiel's rapidly accumulating Ks. In his last six appearances, however, Ankiel has struck out in "just" 44 percent of his plate appearances (8 Ks in 18 PA, closer to his still-awful 34.5 percent rate in 171 PA last year and 25.6 percent rate in his second career as a major league outfielder). In those six games, he also drew that lone walk, hit three home runs and added a double and a single for a .294/.333/.822 line over that extremely small sample, and one of those home runs accounted for the winning run in a 3-2 Astros victory. What's more, unlike Cust and Dunn, Ankiel does have value in the field thanks to the ex-pitcher's still remarkable throwing arm. So, at least for the time being, Ankiel's assault on the record book will continue. Watch out Melvin Nieves!